Response to Sandy Shows Vital Role of Immigrants During Calamities

Super storm Sandy wreaked havoc all along the East Coast, especially in New York and New Jersey, and first responders were there to help millions get through the calamity. So were immigrants who are invisible to most but no less indispensable at times like this: deli workers, food delivery guys, taxi drivers, nannies, tree limb cutters, and many others who ensured our first world comforts.

Some of these individuals labored through the hurricane by choice.

Félix Acosta, a bodega owner, wanted to make sure his customers had their essentials. “People stocked up on groceries early, and we decided to stay open until the hurricane started,” he told El Diario. “We had to place an order of water and milk on two occasions because we ran out, and bread was another item that sold quickly.”

Rafael de la Cruz, a livery cab driver, kept plying the streets to help people get around. “I wasn’t working because I was earning more money than on a regular day; I had to be out on the streets providing service because public transportation was shut down and many people were stranded,” he said.

Mo Showair, a pharmacist, kept his doors open, knowing full well that many of his customers needed their prescriptions. “We filled more than 150 orders for our clients, many of them elderly and sick, and we closed at 4 p.m.,” he said. “We were worried that people in the neighborhood wouldn’t have their medicine when they needed it most.”

David Rohde, writing for the Atlantic, points out however that many kept working because they had very little choice:

Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city’s cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home … Instead of heading home to their families as the winds picked up, the city’s army of cashiers, waiters and other service workers remained in place.

We rightfully salute first responders who save those in dire straits and acknowledge elected officials who lead us through calamities. But we very rarely applaud those around us who do the small things that make a big difference, often at the expense of their own comfort and well-being. Now would be a good time to express our gratitude.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, November 1, 2012.

Bloomberg’s Proposed NYC Budget Sparks Homeless Youth Shelter Campaign


SeanPavonePhoto /

May 4, 2012; Source: The Advocate

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s executive budget, released late last week, might achieve a balanced budget sans tax increases but, some nonprofit advocates say it will make less funding available to programs and services relied upon by Gotham’s neediest, including many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) homeless teens.

LGBT and youth advocates object to a proposed $7 million cut to the city’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Services, a cut that could result in the elimination of 160 youth shelter beds including those at the Ali Forney Center, New York’s sole LGBT shelter.

“Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to throw 160 homeless children out of their shelter beds and into the streets is cruel, reckless, and contemptible,” Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center, told the Advocate. “These cuts create an even bigger crisis for the LGBT teens who are thrown out of their homes and forced to endure homelessness on the streets of our city.”

The Ali Forney Center’s website highlights the unique plight of LGBT youth. As more LGBT teens find the courage to come out of the closet, “as many as 25% of these teens are rejected by their families, and many end up homeless on the streets. Homeless LGBT teens are more likely than straight homeless teens to be subjected to violence on the streets, and in the homeless shelter system. They suffer from inordinate rates of mental illness, trauma, HIV infection and substance abuse.”

The organization estimates 4,000 homeless youth roam the streets of New York and only 250 shelter beds are available. Siciliano adds that more and more youth shelter beds are needed. Last year, the waiting list for the center grew by as much as 40 percent. Siciliano vows to fight the proposed budget cuts, saying, “The Ali Forney Center and all those who work with and care about LGBT homeless youth will not be silent in the face of this decision, which offends us as a community and needlessly puts our young people in harm’s way.”

The center, in tandem with other LGBT organizations, has launched the Campaign for Youth Shelter, which urges city and state leaders to come up with adequate funding for youth shelters in New York. The mayor’s plan is not set in stone. Bloomberg must come to an agreement with the City Council on a final version of the city budget by the end of June.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, May 8, 2012.

First LGBT Senior Center in U.S. Opens Doors

Members of SAGE and the New York City Council cut a ribbon at the unveiling of the country's first LGBT senior center (Image: Sam Levin)

March 1, 2012; Source: The Village Voice

Last Thursday, the nation’s first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) senior citizens’ center opened in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood.

The SAGE Center, a collaboration between the nonprofit SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) and New York City’s Department for the Aging, provides social services to LGBT seniors including meals, mental health initiatives, fitness classes, health and wellness seminars, arts events and technology lessons.

Roger Mácon, a 64-year-old Queens resident, told the Village Voice, “This is very important for elderly gay and LGBT people. We need a place like this as we become [older]…We feel comfortable to be ourselves.” Mácon had recently lost his partner of 22 years and said SAGE helped him handle some legal battles related to the death.

Gladys Berrocal, 62, also from Queens, is excited to see more services for gay seniors like her—citizens who were once entirely ignored.

“Before, there was nothing,” she said. “Now, we are going somewhere.”

The SAGE Center is part of New York City’s Innovative Senior Center program, an initiative by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that gives 10 of the city’s leading aging organizations the opportunity to better serve their constituents with creative, needs-based programming that will create models for the “senior center of the future.”

“It is really an amazing thing to think about, that we passed marriage equality. We have an LGBT senior center right here in Manhattan,” said openly gay City Council Speaker Christine Quinn during the center’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “There’s a time not so long ago when both of those things would have seemed impossible, and we are sending a message today that the impossible is not only possible, it is expected and will continue in the city of New York for all of us.”

The SAGE Center is a much needed space for LGBT seniors to do what their peers do in other senior centers—a place to be open about who they are without fear of being ostracized or, worse, abused.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, March 5, 2012.

Nonprofits Help, Not Burden, State and Local Governments

October 24, 2011; Source: The Wall Street Journal | Straddled by chronic budget shortfalls, state and local governments have been desperate for new sources of revenue. Some are now eyeing nonprofits that have not only been long-term partners of governments but are struggling themselves with shrinking revenues and increasing demand.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for instance, is keeping his campaign promise to start charging nonprofits for water and sewage services. His proposed 2012 budget calls for a25 percent increase in water and sewer fees and the elimination of water fee exemptions for non-profits. This move is projected to net the city $7 million in needed revenues.

This is nothing new. There are those who have been clamoring for nonprofits to pay their fair share, since they do not pay property taxes. Nonprofits are increasingly being asked for payments-in-lieu-of-taxes or PILOTs.

Nonprofits however do pay back, arguably more than they get. Nonprofits help governments provide services and goods at a discount, employ people in the community, pay payroll and sales taxes, and by New York City’s experience, rent office space that would otherwise remain unoccupied.

The Wounded Warrior Project, an organization dedicated to assisting injured veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, has doubled its space in midtown Manhattan to 9,400 square feet. The Roosevelt Institute, which helps run the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and manages the Four Freedoms Center, signed a major lease expansion of 10, 400 square feet.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, “nonprofit organizations have long been a mainstay of New York’s office market especially in older buildings in Midtown South, downtown and side streets in Midtown.” This year, despite hard times, at least 10 nonprofits have signed leases for more space than under their expiring leases

It is understandable that there are those who demand that nonprofits help carry the load, but perhaps they should be fair and tally as well how much these organizations give back. Nonprofits can also do a better job at tooting their horn and letting us all know how much they contribute to our collective well-being.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 24, 2011.

Reasonable State Responses to Immigration

dream act activist

While federal legislation stalls, some states are passing their own DREAM Acts. (Photo: dreamactivist/flickr)

Most of us have been transfixed by Alabama’s immigration law which surpasses all other state laws in its harshness and stringency.

The Department of Justice asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday to stop enforcement of Alabama’s HB 56, concerned that it could lead to racial discrimination. Advocacy groups also filed a separate appeal, citing the law’s immediate aftermath.

State immigration bills such as those passed in Alabama, Georgia and Arizona negatively impact not only immigrants and their families but society in general. They have wide-ranging externalities including lost productivity and revenues. They also have long-term implications for the well-being of our nation.

Fortunately, there are some states bucking the trend and providing more rational, productive and humane solutions to our broken immigration system.

A couple of weeks ago, Rhode Island’s Board of Governors for Higher Education, encouraged by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, approved the state’s version of the DREAM Act which will allow undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition beginning September 2012. Students without papers must show that they graduated from a Rhode Island high school which they attended for at least three years or received a GED certificate from the state. They must also sign an affidavit promising that they will pursue U.S. citizenship as soon as possible.

Last weekend, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the second half of his state’s DREAM Act. The first half, enacted in July, sanctioned private scholarships and loans for undocumented college students. These students, with the passage of the second bill, can now pay in-state tuition rates and apply for state aid.

The state DREAM Acts of Rhode Island and California, like other state versions of the stalled federal initiative to improve the prospects of young undocumented immigrants, does not include a path to citizenship. But they do allow motivated and able young people—in whom states have already invested public education—to obtain a college degree, earn better wages, pay taxes, contribute to the economy and give back to society.

Last Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order requiring state agencies to make vital forms and instructions available in the six most common non-English languages spoken in the state. State agencies including the Office of Children & Family Services, Corrections, the health department, motor vehicles and welfare agencies will now have to provide free interpretation and translation services to assist the 13 percent of New Yorkers who do not speak English as their primary language. Cuomo argued that lawsuits and legislation have failed to address the problem and that access to state services can be a matter of life and death for some immigrants.

Finally, last week, the city commissioners of Dayton, Ohio voted to turn their city into an “immigrant friendly” destination with the explicit goal of replenishing the city’s shrinking immigrant community. The “Welcome Dayton” program seeks to reduce the barriers to immigrants who want to open new businesses and thereby spur investment in immigrant neighborhoods. The initiative aims to help immigrants by providing adults with ESL and literacy courses; actively involving local youth in community building; and encouraging cross-cultural events among Dayton’s cultural and arts organizations.

In California, Rhode Island, New York and Dayton, Ohio, rather than marginalizing immigrants and treating them as scapegoats for our difficult times, government is finding ways to integrate them. These state and city leaders see their immigrant populations as economically integral and as contributing members of society. They acknowledge that immigrants are crucial to our nation’s vitality and future.

One hopes that other states will be less reactionary—ala Alabama—and follow such reasonable responses to immigration.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 12, 2011.

Ethnic Group Capitalizes on Facebook

July 21, 2011; Source: The Asian Journal|

Organizers of the annual “Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York Awards” (TOFA-NY) decided to go viral this year. Voting for the awards will be conducted via Facebook. The group of multimedia professionals made the move because they “believe social media is crucial in getting the word out about the many personalities and organizations that have made us one significant and dynamic community in this part of the U.S.”

Nearly half of the U.S. population is currently plugged into social networks but Asian Americans are the most connected, with 62% of the population socially active online.

TOFA-NY marks Filipino American History Month in October and recognizes individuals and organizations that have positively raised the profile of the community. Among this year’s nominees are nonprofit leaders of New York area groups, including The Children’s Orchestra Society, Damayan Migrant Workers Association, Kalusugan (Health) Coalition and Barangay New York, an LGBTQ organization.

Over 100,000 Filipinos call New York home according to the 2010 Census though some believe that many more were not counted. The Empire State is home to about 1.6 million Asians and the Filipino community is one of the largest.

Ethnic associations and community-based nonprofits contribute to the vitality of ethnic communities. Harnessing technology and the Internet to reach the next generation of hyphenated Americans is essential to maintaining community identity and solidarity.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, July 23, 2011.

The Michael Eric Dyson Show Interview: Immigrants and Gay Marriage

New York’s Gay Pride Parade last weekend was a bit more festive than usual, as participants also celebrated the legalization of same-sex marriage. The reaction was a bit more muted, however, for gay immigrants, who will still face some of the same hurdles when it comes to getting permanent residency for their partners. Erwin de Leon, columnist on immigrant and LGBT issues for Feet in 2 Worlds, an immigration news website, discusses the passage of same-sex marriage in New York and what it means for gay immigrants.

Click here to listen to the audio.