October 18, 2022

The past two years have been long and challenging for the whole world. International crises in Afghanistan, Ukraine, Haiti, Cameroon, and more; the continuous worldwide spread of coronavirus and its impact on people’s physical and emotional health; food insecurity and housing instability of many low-income MA residents– all these and other devastating events have made a direct impact on NAAM’s services, strategy, and working goals over the past year.

Since January 2022, NAAM has been able to assist over 300 individuals and families evacuated from Afghanistan, 100+ individuals and families arrived from Haiti, and 150+ individuals and families fleeing from the war in Ukraine. Under the lead of cultural brokers and language facilitators who help to provide services in the most appropriate cultural manner, our staff members have been working diligently to help families meet their needs for health care and health coverage, school and childcare enrollments, access to services and benefits, housing, jobs, trainings, and ensuring that the most essential needs for food and clothing are met for everyone served by the organization. Our capacity to serve newly arrived people has grown significantly during the last year thanks to our generous funder and long-term partner and friend, MA Office for Refugees and Immigrants!

NAAM’s adult ESL program has been growing rapidly over the last year due to the influx of newcomers. We currently run five morning and evening ESL classes for refugees and people referred to us by the Department of Transitional Assistance; three ESL and Literacy classes in the mornings and afternoons for parents of Lynn Public Schools; and project-based ESL classes, Teaching English through Music, Art, Wellness and Technology. We opened a special class for Afghan women, Learning English through Life Skills, to educate them on important aspects of their everyday lives, such as shopping, child care, health care, etc.

Due to the multiple requests from students and instructors, NAAM chose to continue offering its ESL program online. Our two + years’ experience of running classes via Zoom has proven that it is much more convenient for people, saves them time and money necessary for commute, solves childcare problems, and on top of that, newcomers feel very comfortable being in their homes and in class at the same time. Our ESL Instructors commented that students became friendlier and more open to practical exercises and conversations over Zoom. Once they learn useful Zoom features, like applying background filters to their rooms, they become less shy to use their video cameras to be visible to their instructors and classmates. It does require certain technological skills and stable Internet connections from people to attend classes. NAAM staff members are working diligently to train people, provide them with necessary ongoing support to attend the class, and ensure affordable Internet options are in place. NAAM was very fortunate to obtain a donation of Chromebooks and laptops from Essex County Community Foundation and Ipswich Refugee Program. Therefore, we are able to loan our clients electronic devices on an as- needed basis and help them to learn how to use computers. We also offer students the  opportunity to come into the New American Center to participate in the online classes from the office, if they prefer a quiet workspace or lack reliable internet connection. Additionally, volunteer tutors are available to meet with students one-on-one.

Here are just a few of the most exciting initiatives and programs this past year:

The Afghan Women’s Group in Newburyport has turned out to be a much-needed hub  for emotional support offered by women to each other and is guided by a professional psychologist, volunteer Sheila Trief. NAAM Lynn team offered the space of the New American Center to the Afghan women residing in the area. Women come on Sundays to spend time with each other, make garments for their families (NAAM purchased a number of brand-new sewing machines for this purpose), and share meals. Transportation and babysitting services are provided.

Our Covid-related services funded by Health Resources in Action are focusing at this time on the behavioral health impact of the pandemic on our clients and students. Last month, under the guidance of the clinical social worker, Judi Goldman, we launched online Wellness sessions for women from Latino and Cameroonian communities.

This year NAAM was fortunate to receive another two-year grant from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to help our constituents, immigrants and refugees, on their path to US citizenship. Since 2018, this grant has allowed us to support 500 individuals to prepare for the Naturalization exam, learn about, and respect the history and civics of their new home country. Over these four years, we were able to accumulate multiple resources, technology, teaching materials, and outreach techniques to continue offering this invaluable service to the community. I am positive that we will continue to be worthy of the trust USCIS puts in NAAM!

I am sure the summer program will be described in detail by our incredible staff, but the outstanding work performed by the NAAM Youth Program team was so imressive this year that  I cannot resist saying how proud we all should be of it! Emilie Wilk, Youth Program Manager, excelled by putting together an enormous program to serve children grades 100+ K-12 children from Afghanistan,Haiti, Ukraine, Congo, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and many other

countries… It is impossible to find what she has not thought about… Outreach, logistics, activities, staff, teen employees, staff trainings and management, volunteers, space, field trips, transportation, parents’ release forms, food, budgets, andmany more everyday challenges of being responsible for children at all times for 6 weeks and still enjoying their company tremendously… Of course, this all would not be possible if she did not have strong helpers by her side.

Rouaa and Reem Ahmad, Richard Valentine, Harriette Lindemann, and many others, thank you, all, for your very hard work!

In response to the issue of clients’ food insecurity, we are continuing to provide support in this funding from Essex County Community Foundation has allowed us to continue to address the area and we have adapted our food assistance program to better support clients’ needs.

Instead of the weekly deliveries of food items, which required clients to be at home at a designated time to receive the delivery, we are now supporting clients through a reimbursement program which allows them to submit their grocery receipts for reimbursement of (part of) their food expenditures. Clients have reacted very positively to this change – they are happy to have the ability to make their own selections of grocery items, rather than receiving whatever happened to have been donated during a given week. They have overwhelmingly expressed appreciation or being able to do  their  shopping  in markets, ethnic or not, of their choice, and to select the items that they are familiar with and used to cooking. An additional feature of our new food reimbursement program is that our newly arrived clients are provided with assistance and in-person guidance with their shopping, including how to find sale items, how to understand labels, and how to budget for their monthly food expenses.

A generous grant funding from Cummings Foundation allowed us to provide the most essential case management services to an underserved group, students participating in our ESL program for Lynn Public School parents.

There were many bitter-sweet good-byes and happy hellos this past year:

Dulany Alexander, amazing ESL/Civics Instructor and faithful volunteer, a person I will admire forever, decided to fully retire in June 2022. We are immensely thankful for, and proud of, all Dulany has accomplished during her tenure at NAAM. Her legacy includes teaching English, citizenship, basic computer skills; providing technological support to all of us, teachers, case managers, students, clients; bringing volunteers, financial resources, and her own masterful organizational and navigational skills to develop and implement our food delivery project; transitioning it into the present on-going program; and physically delivering food to the doors of our clients/students.

Dan Gorberg, NAAM ESL Instructor who has been with the  agency  since  2011  and  taught hundreds of students English, US Civics and History, life and job skill, our  witty,  outgoing, smart, funny, tall, and very busy  Dan  Gorberg  retired  in  August  2022.  He  trusted his favorite Citizenship program to the capable hands  of  Bobby  Grinnell,  a talented Educator and ESL Instructor.

Alla Brikman, the most talented, experienced, full-hearted, caring, kindest, and sincerest case manager, loved and respected by many, my personal beloved friend, soulmate and mentor since 1997, who hired and taught me everything I know, who has been on her duty serving refugees and immigrants, helping their adjustment to the country, providing them with comfort, assistance, advice and caring through difficulties, challenges, joy and  achievements on daily basis, assuring their path  to citizenship for 27+ years, has retired. I am happy to  report that Alla remains to be my closest friend who I respect and love deeply.

Gina Chase, a professional ESL Instructor, experienced educator, and diligent School Director, respected and loved by her many students and co-workers, retired in October 2022. Gina has been with our organization for 14 years, teaching English to students from Somalia, Former Soviet Union, Burma, Bhutan, Iraq, Sudan, Cuba, Liberia, Iran, Congo,  etc…  Gina, with her graceful and intelligent manners, managed to help many people to find their paths in  the US, improve their English, learn about  their  new  home  country,  and  successfully  adjust to it. Gina passed her responsibility of NAAM ESL School Director to Mia Mountain who started her career at NAAM as a volunteer in Gina’s class in 2019!

We were happy this year to welcome new members of our NAAM community. Ally Croteau joined our Employment Team at the beginning of 2022. Since then Ally, with her easy-going and attentive approach was able to develop professional relationships with multiple employers finding jobs for our clients in Newburyport, Ipswich, Andover and many other remote places.

Paola Colunga, NAAM’s wonderful ESL/Civics tutor who prepared many of our clients for passing the Citizenship exam, added an additional role to become a Case Manager for the ESL students.

Thanks to the grant from Welcome.US funding, Sophie Bardetti joined NAAM team to offer invaluable support to NAAM volunteers. Within just the first few months of work, Sophie managed to recruit new motivated and driven volunteers, provide them with initial training and support, significantly improve an onboarding structure of volunteers, create a Volunteer Resource Guide, establish ongoing communication between existing and newly recruited volunteers and NAAM staff members, and a lot more! Look forward to partnering with you on many other projects, Sophie!

NAAM’s most trustworthy interpreter  and  volunteer,  Sayed Achakzai,  changed  his  role to provide case management services to the people from his native community. Sayed plays an instrumental role in supporting new families and individuals speaking Dari and Pashto languages, as well as assisting NAAM staff to build trust with Afghan newcomers and provide culturally appropriate services.

NAAM’s new partnership with the city of Lynn brought on board Interpreters speaking Spanish, Haitian Creole, Arabic, Khmer, Portuguese, and many other languages. During the summer of 2022, NAAM in collaboration with Language Connections, offered a Community Interpreting Training to build a network of highly qualified professionals capable to serve respective communities in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner.

Our growing Lowell branch welcomed new staff members, under the supervision of Amanda Sullivan, Zabihullah Moshfiq and Winfred Anyangu play essential roles in helping people to overcome barriers towards sustainable employment.

Afghani families resettled in Newburyport are supported by NAAM caring and professional staff and volunteers. We have been lucky to be able to hire Dari/Pashto speaking Patmana Rafiq, most caring and kindhearted individual, to work with families in Newburyport helping them to handle everyday challenges to adjust to their new homes. Kathleen Shaw, LICSW clinician, specializing on early child development, is in charge of Early Education and Care for young children in Newburyport as well as monitoring a progress of older children in NP schools working as a liaison between schools and families.

Nadia Elmouhsine, Lesley Hansard, Michel Fialo-Perez, Cristina Nuncio, Janet Kenney, our new brave ESL Teachers, welcome to NAAM! I am positive with your energy, new ideas, creative thinking and experience our students will thrive!

Thank you, all, for being part of NAAM Team, your hard work, dedication and motivation! I look forward to work by your side to continue offering our hands, minds, and hearts to the people we are privileged to serve!

Natasha Soolkin

Executive Director, NAAM