York YMCA one of three in U.S. to open immigrant welcome center this year

York County's immigrant community received exciting news when it was announced that the York YMCA will receive a $40,000 grant to open a New American Welcome Center.

The downtown location, at 90 N. Newberry St. in York City, was one of three YMCAs in the country selected to open a center in 2018. The other two are in San Francisco and Kansas City.

“It will help newcomers thrive," said Lou Rivera, who is working with Downtown Inc to organize the monthly First Friday Latino celebrations. "It’s an integration model that empowers immigrants to achieve their potential and prepares receiving communities to be inclusive.”

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Of cities chosen for welcome centers in the past, York City is one of the smallest, said Craig Wolf, director of community services at the York YMCA.

Wolf said the YMCA of the USA has awarded 15 grants to date — six each in 2016 and 2017 and three in 2018 — many of which were for larger cities such as Houston or Boston.

The goal of the organization is to have 40 welcome centers across the country by 2025, he added.

Strong immigrant presence: York City was chosen for a welcome center — and a $40,000 grant to the downtown branch of the YMCA — because of its large concentration of immigrants in the city and the local YMCA's years of dedicated service to that population, he said.

Wolf said the York YMCA has been working with immigrants for about 20 years.

"We’re really excited about the designation," he said, adding that the York YMCA is seeking additional funding to support the project.

In addition to a population that is close to 30 percent Latino, according to 2010 Census data, the city has many other smaller communities representing different nationalities, including Haitian, Congolese, Sri Lankan and Egyptian communities, Wolf said.

The York County Literacy Council's 2017 data shows the organization provided language services to people from 62 countries and 45 language groups, according to Wolf.

Ruth Tineo holds her son Joshua, 3, as they socialize during the Resource Fair at Welcoming week Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, at Foundry Park. Amanda J. Cain photo

What does the center provide? The welcome center will offer assistance in five focus areas: language and education, economic integration and employment, health and well-being, citizenship and citizen engagement, and community development, along with housing support.

An advisory council assesses what the community can provide in these areas, and the YMCA facilitates through direct and referral services, bridge-building activities between newcomer populations and the receiving community, and building community partnerships.

Direct services would be what the YMCA can provide, such as housing. The York YMCA has 120 rooms, as well as 118 apartment units, owned by the organization's Y Community Development Corp. in surrounding areas, according to Wolf.

He also said the YMCA has revitalized four major area neighborhoods in the past 20 years.

Community resources: If the YMCA does not have direct access to a service, such as English language instruction, the staff will refer individuals to one of the many services available in community networks — in this case, the county's literacy council.

Building community partnerships is about strengthening these networks and serving as a coordinator — not creating services that already exist, Wolf said.

He noted that there are already a lot of really good things happening in the city, but there's not a site where a newcomer can come to town and know what agencies are available.

Bridge-building is something the York YMCA has focused on for the last three years, facilitating Welcoming Week activities that help educate the community on who immigrants are, such as business tours with community leaders from businesses founded and operated by immigrants.

Kamrun Nahar of Halal Meat and Grocery, center, talks with members of the Newcomer's Business Tour in her shop in York City Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. The tour is part of York's Welcoming Week events for National Welcoming Week. Participants visited six immigrant-owned businesses. Nahar is originally from Bangladesh. Bill Kalina photo

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York City was even nationally recognized as one of 50 "Welcoming Communities" by the White House in 2016.

Rivera said the Latino community was honored to make the announcement about the new welcome center at the inaugural First Friday Latino.

The center will open to serve the public on Monday, March 19.

“The Latino community is excited about this,” he said, and they plan to volunteer and assist with immigrants in any way they can.