Sunday, March 18, 2012

The International Center NY: Too Big to Fail?

By Nicholas Allanach

For almost fifty years, the International Center in New York (IC) has been an influential not-for-profit organization for immigrants, students, and newcomers to the United States. It is a place where people learn English, attend workshops on American culture, and receive guidance and support to improve their lives - some with the hope of ultimately becoming part of this country. Most importantly, the IC is a safe place to celebrate and strengthen New York’s ever expanding and diverse international community. For those who immigrate here (no matter their social or economic situation), this city is a challenging and aggressive place to call home. The IC, with its small support staff and many dedicated volunteers, is where newcomers come to ask questions, become confident enough to express themselves, and ultimately begin to actualize their own American dreams.

Unfortunately it is now more difficult for tomorrow's citizens to achieve these dreams.

Last week, the bad news broke that the IC would be declaring bankruptcy and closing its doors on April 30th. The news hit those who rely on this center for vital support the hardest. The e-mail sent out to students and volunteers from the director of the center was intentionally vague, but explained that the rent is too expensive for the center to continue operating at its current location (50 West 23rd Street, 7th floor).

After an emergency meeting with the director, staff, and teaching volunteers, I soon learned the real(?) story suggests a jaded board of directors and incompetent development staff who placed their own misguided priorities before those they claim to represent. Admittedly, as of this writing, there has been no official statement from said board; nevertheless, it appears as that the members of this (self-elected) governing body have given-up. The board has opted to desert the very people who count on the IC for something far more than another self-gratifying title on an already impressive resume. Instead of fighting the good fight, the board has decided to declare bankruptcy with no real genuine explanation of intent to the students, staff, and volunteers.

Since we're missing an official statement from said board, it is difficult to understand their reason for just quitting. Where is the IC's "bailout"? Instead of even trying to save the IC, the board has sent a clear message - it prefers to turn its back on the many who have relied on this center for vital support. I do hope the board will soon explain what efforts were made to raise funds or reduce expenses so that this closure could have been prevented. After all, why were these efforts (assuming there were any) unsuccessful? Too many questions and not enough answers, which has left many believing the board does not have the best interests of those it purports to support in mind.

For two years, I've been a volunteer ESL teacher and occasional “conversation partner” at the IC. It pains me to see this unique and significant place just close down without a fight. On Friday, in class, I looked into the faces of my students and wished that the board was here to answer our questions. Do they really know the peoples' stories and lives that their decisions effect? A sad time indeed.

Despite the bad news, many remain optimistic the IC will re-open under new leadership and renewed mission to “help citizens of the world feel at home in New York.” Whatever challenges we confront over the coming months, make no mistake, we do so together and there are many who are not giving up on the IC or the dreams of these people.