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Neighbors Link Offers Hub For Immigrant Community In Stamford

From left, Christa Chu, development and communications manager; and Catalina Horak, executive director of Neighbors Link Stamford.  They are standing in front of a mural created by a Mexican immigrant with help from over 200 volunteers.
From left, Christa Chu, development and communications manager; and Catalina Horak, executive director of Neighbors Link Stamford. They are standing in front of a mural created by a Mexican immigrant with help from over 200 volunteers. Photo Credit: Sandra Diamond Fox
Parents and their children participate in Neighbors Link Stamford's Summer Reading Program
Parents and their children participate in Neighbors Link Stamford's Summer Reading Program Photo Credit: contributed
A volunteer-taught English as a Second Language class
A volunteer-taught English as a Second Language class Photo Credit: contributed
Debora Gonzalez, Worker Outreach Coordinator, who was part of the group that founded Neighbors Link Stamford in 2011, and is from Guatemala. She lives in Stamford with her family.
Debora Gonzalez, Worker Outreach Coordinator, who was part of the group that founded Neighbors Link Stamford in 2011, and is from Guatemala. She lives in Stamford with her family. Photo Credit: Sandra Diamond Fox

STAMFORD, Conn. — Do you need help with your computer skills? Are you interested in improving your English? Have you found a social network to connect with others? Neighbors Link Stamford offers help with all of these services and more — and for free — to immigrants.

“Our purpose is to strengthen the whole community by actively engaging in the healthy integration of immigrants,” said Catalina Horak, executive director of Neighbors Link Stamford, which is funded by private individuals and organizations.

“Neighbors Link Neighbors was created because there was a need to provide concentrated services to the immigrant community in a connected kind of way,” she said.

Established in 2011, Neighbors Link Stamford is a community center that helps immigrants with the four “E’s”: Education, Empowerment, Employment and Engagement.

The organization has reached over 4,000 immigrants and helped people from 55 countries, according to Horak.

“We are very lucky to be involved in a very robust community. We refer to ourselves as a welcoming portal for immigrants,” said  Christa Chu of Ridgefield, development and communications manager at Neighbors Link Stamford.

Ongoing year-round classes include English as a Second Language, financial literacy and job preparedness. There is also a homework club for students as well as babysitting services. Teachers offer lessons in job training skills in fields such as culinary services and home health care.

Over 300 people volunteer at Neighbors Link Stamford regularly.

People who come to Neighbors Link Stamford feel a unique sense of connecting and belonging, Horak said.

“When you are sharing experiences, that interaction between people in a non-threatening way breaks lots of stereotypes and barriers,” she said.

Most of the staff members are immigrants themselves. Chu’s father is from Peru, and her mother’s family is from Ireland and Germany. Horak, a Darien resident, is originally from Colombia.

“Immigration is a part of American history and has been a constant throughout our country’s history,” Chu said.

There is a great need for Neighbors Link in the community. “We were seeing the changing demographics in Stamford and the rest of Fairfield County," Horak said. "There is a different demographic here than there was 15 to 20 years ago.

“There was no one hub — no one destination place for immigrants to go to for help in all different areas,” she said.

According to Chu, the key to engaging people at the center is its flexibility. “Frequently, clients work several jobs and have family obligations or have seasonal jobs. This is why a flexible system works best,” she said.

In July, Neighbors Link Stamford held a summer reading program, collaborating with teachers from the Stamford Public Schools to bring in kids and their parents to read.

“Parents and their children were able to practice their English side by side,” she said

Beginning next year, Neighbors Link Stamford will begin providing legal support to help clients complete their applications for citizenship.

For more information on Neighbors Link Stamford, located at 75 Selleck St., call 203-674-8585 or click here.

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