Last week my colleague Sonya and I had the pleasure of visiting Bishop Nicolas Homicil at his Voice of the Gospel Tabernacle Ministry church in Mattapan. As a long-time grantee partner, we were aware of the important work that he and many of our other community-based partners in Boston do to meet the needs of their communities. In fact, Bishop Homicil’s work was recently featured in a local newspaper. As is often the case, faith-based organizations are the first place that newly arrived immigrants seek out when they need assistance. Many provide food, emergency shelter, and serve as critical points of connection to other services and resources. In short, they welcome newly arrived immigrants with love and do their best to help them integrate into the community. Our visit drove home not only the immense need, but the powerful way Bishop Homicil and others are responding to the increased need driven in part by the crisis at the Southern border and instability in Haiti. As part of our new strategy the Imago Dei Fund, has affirmed our role in continuing to support this essential work in the community and in particular to strengthening the network of support in the Haitian diaspora in Boston. An important part of that network is the Immigrant Family Services Institute that offers a range of services and is an important advocate for immigrants in Massachusetts. We are happy to spotlight their work here as a way to share what we have been learning about the needs and the powerful way the many nonprofit organizations are responding. ~ Jennifer Oakley, Program Partner Imago Dei Fund

Immigration Family Services Institute (IFSI), was founded in 2015 by Executive Director, Dr. Geralde V. Gabeau and other dedicated Haitian professionals with the belief that when voices of marginalized people are centered, the outcome is equity, inclusion, and greater wellbeing. IFSI’s mission is to expedite their successful integration into the social and economic fabric of the United States with justice and dignity. Inspired by a humanist vision of global solidarity and peace, IFSI aims to address the needs and aspirations of recently arrived immigrants in the United States by being a leading institute for direct services and programs, thought leadership, coalition building, and advocacy. Adopting the ‘It Takes a Village’ African proverb that resonates with immigrants, IFSI’s team welcomes all into the IFSI Family and accompanies these resilient individuals and families on their journeys, creating pathways to new beginnings.

In solidarity, IFSI quickly pivots to meet clients where they are, providing emergency services, temporary housing and food, and processing work applications. Once basic essentials are met, immigrants are better positioned for opportunities in education and workforce development. At the heart of its mission is the educational program, and IFSI takes special pride in fostering a nurturing and safe environment for young people and adults to learn, develop intellectual curiosity, and acquire practical skills. IFSI offers after school and summer programs rich in academics and the Arts to help students thrive. The adult education program provides classes focused on ESL/ESOL, literacy, technology, certified nursing and culinary arts to support pathways to gainful employment, meaningful inclusion, and optimal living for those served.

Across Massachusetts IFSI’s offices serve as ‘One-Stop Centers’ bringing together, in one place, linguistic and cultural expertise in service delivery, providing information that connects immigrants to the resources they most need and in proper sequence. These areas include housing; healthcare; legal assistance; and education for children, youth and adults, as well as workforce development, job placement, and advocacy. IFSI’s advocacy efforts are broad and range from individual empowerment to systems change; educating a broader public through radio, published news and Navigator stories (found on IFSI’s website); collaboration with coalitions and partners; and meetings with policy makers, fostering better understanding of the immigrant context with impact to facilitate a greater understanding of developments, and to shape timely, appropriate, and scaled responses.

With the third-highest number of Haitians in the country, Massachusetts has 81,050 individuals – 1.16% of the state’s population – and is fast growing. The number of newly arrived IFSI families increased from 520 in 2020 to more than 9,000 family units served this year to date, 17 times that of 2020. In this year alone, IFSI has welcomed more than 14,000 individuals at its doors. They face language and acculturation challenges, an education gap, scars from years of violence and repression in Haiti following the assassination of their president in 2021, and a national immigration border crisis. Upon arrival, they are met with social and structural barriers, intolerance, and inequity– further exacerbated by a housing crisis and bottlenecks at the federal level with application processing of Temporary Protective Status and work permits, which are vital to self-reliance.

In 2021, IFSI elevated advocacy efforts with community partners statewide, mobilizing its Haitian brothers and sisters in protest against injustice and inequity. Ascending the state house steps together in a call to action led to meaningful systems change, yielding a first ever $8M Haitian Resettlement Assistance Program (HRAP) pass-through grant in 2022, with IFSI named as administrator.

Last month, IFSI led a charge to amplify awareness of the ongoing shortage of available and affordable housing as it relates to the influx of newly arrived immigrants. Dr. Gabeau’s statewide advocacy focused attention on the crisis at the intersection of an unprecedented influx of immigrants and the longstanding affordable housing shortage in the Greater Boston area. Her participation in dialogue with legislative leaders culminated in one-to-one conversation with Massachusetts Governor Healey. This resulted in the August 2023 announcement of the State of Emergency to address the migrant housing crisis, a turning point in heightened awareness and a push toward system change. IFSI works tirelessly to create lasting change and dares to dream of a time when ALL immigrants are accepted, and full inclusion is realized.