North East Dutchess Immigration Service: A new nonprofit, a long-standing service

Ben York, operational coordinator, and Mark Clizbe, program director, of NEDIS discussing the program at the Millbrook Library Volunteer Day Oct. 14, 2023.

Judith O’Hara Balfe

North East Dutchess Immigration Service: A new nonprofit, a long-standing service

MILLBROOK — Grace Episcopal Church began its Grace Latino Outreach (GLO) program in 2005 under the auspices of Rev. Dr. Douglas J. Fisher and members of the church, who undertook to start the program in response to an access problem: many people in the immigrant community did not know what resources were available to them or how to access what was available.

Lack of transportation and a language barrier added to the feelings of isolation that came from being in a new country, far from home and family.

GLO began by offering two programs: English as a Second Language (ESL), and instruction in basic banking, such as opening checking accounts and obtaining and using debit cards.

By 2008, Evelyn Garzetta was named coordinator of GLO; in 2011, she was named executive director.

The program became an important interface with the local immigrant population. GLO coordinated with other area programs such as Community Action Partnership, MESA Episcopal Mission in Dover, and especially with St. Thomas Church in Amenia Union, which has a food pantry and community garden among other services. They’ve also partnered with Literacy Connection, Somos la Llave del Futro, Eastern Dutchess Rural Health Network, Hudson/Sun River Health, Northeast Community Center, and Cornell Cooperative Extension.

In a region that is underserved in health, transportation and other critical services, the partnerships have been invaluable.

But often the brunt of the coordination and work fell on GLO and Garzetta. In 2018, GLO became Grace Immigrant Outreach (GIO), with the intention of broadening their support beyond the Latino immigrant community.

As services expanded, so did the need for grants and manpower; in 2022, Garzetta initiated the transformation of the church’s outreach program into a 501(c)(3), Northeast Dutchess Immigrant Service (NEDIS).

Among its charges was getting together a panel of board members. Chosen were people who were known in the community for helping others; for being committed to community; for expertise in areas of medicine, law and education; those who can and will help clientele to navigate the often complicated aspects of starting life over again in a new environment, a new language and a new culture.

The first meeting of the board of directors, required for a 501(c)(3), took place Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, at the Millerton Inn.

Present were Garzetta, and staff members Mark Clizbe, program director, and Freddie Gonzalez, and seven board members. Each of them is clear in their belief that this population deserves full membership in the community, a sense of ownership and belonging. What they give back to the community deserves no less.

Some of the areas people need help in are actually what other populations need assistance with as well, such as affordable housing and transportation. NEDIS distributes food bags from Food of Life Pantry to Mision Episcopal Santiago Apostol in Dover Plains; provides evening ESL classes in Dover, Millbrook and Pawling, and materials for students in tutoring programs; a social worker is available to help clients obtain physical and mental health services; and consultants are available to help navigate the legal system, particularly with regards to status change and asylum papers, visas, applications and other paperwork, and referrals to immigration attorneys; offers transportation to appointments at immigration court.

NEDIS’ Academic Mentoring Program provides academic instruction and educational advocacy, as well as teaching clients, among other skills, to organize their work and finances, communicate with school systems in which children are enrolled, and supports school-age clients in planning for the future, for example by making career goals or in applying to college.

NEDIS, which operates out of two offices — 12 Rymer Street in Dover, and at Grace Church, 3328 Franklin Ave., Millbrook — has been fortunate in acquiring generous donations from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, Episcopal Charities, the Northeast Dutchess Fund and many others. But becoming a 501(c)(3) allows it to operate without being under the auspices of a religious order, and enables the group to apply for government grants and funding.

What will remain constant, from the first days of its start in 2008, is the caring and respect that is given, along with the expertise, to enable an immigrant population to become independent members of the community, working in partnership with a long-term population, to make this part of Dutchess County vibrant, alive, and prosperous.

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