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Hartford Library Employee To Be Honored As Champion Of Change At White House


June 10, 2013

HARTFORD -- When Homa Naficy, a native of Iran, received U.S. citizenship in 2000, she immediately began giving back to her adopted country as a leading advocate for immigration and citizenship services at the Hartford Public Library.

Now the library's chief adult education officer, Naficy founded and directs The American Place, a series of programs supporting Hartford's immigrants and refugees. She will be recognized along with 12 other librarians from across the nation at the White House on Tuesday as part of President Obama's Champions of Change program.

Naficy's initiatives with adult education and The American Place range from digital and online assistance to English and citizenship classes. Naficy emphasizes integration efforts, as she sees immigrants struggle to find a sense of belonging in their new communities.

"The one thing that all immigrants have in common are those American values we all have the same politcal values of freedom, and we can bring people together through that shared culture," Naficy said.

A new program at the library called Cultural Navigators trains and matches long-time resident volunteers with newly immigrated families. "We are focusing on building and bridging relationships between immigrants and members of their communities," said Naficy. She credits the work of her tireless staff with day-to-day support services. "You can't do these things alone, you need the support of your directorship, a shared vision, and the support of your staff. I am very lucky and honored to have all of these things," she said.

The American Place also hosts discussions among immigrants and the community at various public library branches around Hartford. An immigrant Welcome Committee sponsored by the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association stemmed from such a discussion at the Asylum Hill library branch.

The American Place project was initially funded in 2000 by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, along with another program that kept reference librarians available by phone until midnight. That program has since been eliminated, while The American Place program was refunded and then permanently endowned by the library several years ago.

"What that tells me is that the role of libraries is changing. People can increasingly Google their reference questions. You can't Google immigration help," said Naficy, mentioning that many people seeking assistance have never seen a computer keyboard before.

At the White House event Tuesday, Naficy will serve on a discussion panel with other nominees to answer questions about immigration integration in their own communities. The discussion and award ceremony will stream live at http://www.whitehouse.gov/live at 4 p.m.

The Champions of Change Program was created by President Obama to recognize ordinary Americans working to "out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world." Naficy was nominated by Hartford Public Library CEO Matthew Poland after the Champions program received word of the extensive immigration services offered by the library.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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