VALHALLA, N.Y. -- The Gateway Center at Westchester Community College in Valhalla and the White Plains-based Westchester Hispanic Coalition received grants to help serve the county's immigrants, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday.
The two groups were selected as "Neighborhood Opportunity Centers" and will provide free English as a Second Language instruction, free legal services for naturalization and entrepreneurial workshops for immigrants.
"The goal of the grant is to help immigrants achieve linguistic, civic and economic integration," Cuomo said in a statement.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 statistics, 24.6 percent of Westchester County’s population is foreign born, and 31.7 percent of the county’s households speak languages other than English. In addition, 22.4 percent of Westchester’s people are of Hispanic descent and 5.8 percent are of Asian descent.
The grant also allows Westchester residents to become involved in the integration process by pairing volunteers with English learners and with individuals who are on the path to citizenship.
The Westchester Hispanic Coalition was founded in 1974 and is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to the economic and social development of the Latino community. The Coalition is the only non-profit provider of immigration legal services in Westchester, according to the state.
"Immigrants in Westchester County are better positioned to integrate into the fabric of American society by becoming naturalized citizens, increasing their English competency and gaining access to entrepreneurial opportunities," Graciela Heymann, executive director of the Westchester Hispanic Coalition, said in a statement. "Through this grant, we expect naturalized citizens to become more engaged in civic participation by taking part in the democratic process on a Federal, State and local level, and by strengthening their sense of belonging to their own communities.”
Westchester Community College’s Gateway Center offers programs that address the educational needs of the county’s increasingly diverse population, Cuomo said. The college’s English Language Institute is housed in the Gateway Center.
“As leaders in ESL instruction in the County, the state-of-the-art English instruction provided by WCC aims to integrate students into society, provide them with the tools necessary to increase their earnings, and allow them to become stronger contributors to their communities and the US economy”, said Teresita Wisell, associate dean at Westchester Community College’s Gateway Center. “Immigrants will also have access to entrepreneurial workshops that may turn innovative ideas into potential small business ventures.”