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Praise For Immigrant Program Doesn't Surprise Hartford Library



January 02, 2009

Homa Naficy was pleased to learn that a presidential task force formed in 2006 and charged with identifying ways to help legal immigrants embrace American civic culture had applauded the efforts of the Hartford Public Library in its report to President George W. Bush.

But Naficy, the library's multicultural education and outreach manager, was not surprised.

That's because the library has been doing just that since 2000, when it launched The American Place, a program designed to provide free citizenship and language courses for immigrants and refugees.

"What we're trying to do is engage people civically," Naficy said of the program, which she said has served between 2,500 and 3,000 people since its inception.

The program includes English-as-a-second-language classes, which are augmented by a range of resources, such as computer programs, DVDs, CDs, books on tape and books for beginning readers.

The program, initially made possible by two substantial grants from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, is now mostly funded internally. Weekly classes include visits to city hall and the state Capitol, and they offer practice for the citizenship interview.

Naficy said one of the goals is to persuade people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to buy into the notion that they are all part of one bigger nation, putting aside historical or neighborhood boundaries.

"We need to bring them together around shared values and promote shared values," she said.

The task force report, which also complimented successful immigration-tailored programs in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., library system and the one in the Queens borough of New York, highlighted The American Place goal of helping immigrants adjust to life in this country while enabling them to contribute to their community.

William Large, a longtime member of the Hartford Public Library's board of directors, said that because the program was created for a relatively small, anonymous group, it did not initially draw a lot of attention or praise.

But the real reward for the library, he said, comes from the immigrants themselves.

"The folks who successfully complete it disappear into society, and that's what we want them to do," Large said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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