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Greenwich's Barbara's House looks to expand immigration services

GREENWICH — The town Department of Human Services has more clients asking for immigration counseling services than they can help.

The trend comes as President Joe Biden took office with plans to create a sweeping immigration reform bill and undo the harsh treatment of immigrants under the Trump administration.

That signals to leaders of social service agencies that the path to citizenship could become much more achievable, said Gaby Rattner, executive director of Barbara's House, a Greenwich-based human services organization that helps clients overcome educational, social and economic barriers.

CCI Executive Director Gaby Rattner shows the new Barbara's House headquarters in the Chickahominy section of Greenwich, Conn. Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. Barbara's House, the human services agency serving people in Greenwich, recently moved to a new building to obtain more space and cut costs. File / Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

The organization is now searching for a new immigration expert to fill what nonprofit leaders call an unmet need in the community.

“We’re searching for a candidate and hoping to fill this position by mid-February. We’re looking for either an immigration lawyer, although they don’t have to be a lawyer, or an immigration specialist, who understands the ins-and-outs to the path to citizenship, and can counsel clients at any stage in process,” Rattner said.

Since 1955, Barbara's House has worked to address the root causes of community problems, such as the achievement gap in education and financial stability.

Over the years, the organization has evolved along with the community, offering new services to meet additional needs among town residents. Its longstanding immigration program, developed more than a decade ago, is just one example of that kind of expansion. In that program, Barbara's House offers English as a Second Language courses and a citizenship class, both designed to give clients the tools they need to become U.S. citizens while also helping them obtain better job opportunities. The organization has helped nearly 300 people become citizens, Rattner said.

Once hired, the new immigration counselor would help nonprofit leaders to expand the programming by offering services to clients, who are a part of Barbara's House and the Greenwich Human Services Department’s caseload. The counselor would give guidance on a wide range of topics and policies to help individuals navigate the complex and multilayered immigration system, Rattner said.

The move comes after an arrangement with Stamford’s New Covenant Center fell through last year. The leaders of that organization said they no longer had the bandwidth to provide such services to Greenwich residents.

At a recent Human Services Department board meeting, members said the New Covenant Center had once had many participants, demonstrating the need for immigation services in the community.

The new employee would work flexible hours in the daytime and evening. While the COVID-19 pandemic remains unpredictable and uncontrollable, the individual could work remotely, advising clients virtually, Rattner said.

“We are very committed to doing this and we know this is a need,” she said. “We’re going to make this happen.”

[email protected] @TATIANADFLOWERS


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