Many of Allentown’s residents were born outside of the United States, while countless more are first generation offspring of immigrants. Allentown has created a variety of programs to help these newcomers feel that they are part of the community, many of which are sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multi-Cultural Affairs. This office sponsors festivals and other events throughout the year and provides one-on-one services to immigrants who need help navigating various programs. The Office provides information and programs that facilitate the successful integration of immigrants into the civic, economic, and cultural life of the City. City representatives help identify available services and connect individuals with community-based organizations that can be of assistance. They also assist community-based organizations in addressing community concerns.
Project Summary :
The City’s newest undertaking is the establishment of a Cultural Community Center, where cultural organizations have a space of their own and local immigrants can seek resources and legal counsel in the face of recent immigration policy changes.
Discussions about the Cultural Community Center began in 2016 when the mayor saw an opportunity to bring together cultural leaders and local not-for-profits into a building called Alliance Hall. Alliance Hall is currently home to the Allentown Health Bureau, Lehigh Valley Child Care, Housing Association Development Corporation, and others. A board governs the building and is representative of the main building occupants.
Planning included many meetings and sessions that included the Mayor, the Board of Alliance Hall, leaders from the City’s Department of Community and Economic Development, and representatives from local cultural groups.
This initiative is the first of its kind in Allentown, the region and the state. This new program not only responds to the increasing needs of various cultural groups that have grown over the years, but also responds to the immediate and urgent needs of local immigrants who have seen increased challenges in recent months. Through the Cultural Community Center, cultural groups have a very low payment lease that affords them quality office space, electric, telephone, internet service, and parking, as well as access to a commercial kitchen for food preparation for events, large gymnasium, and common space where they can hold meetings, fundraisers, and other small cultural events.
Seven groups have signed leases for the Cultural Community Center: the Jamaican Cultural Organization; the Liberian Community Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania; the Puerto Rican Cultural Preservation Inc.; Interlace Culturaly Desarrollo Integral Mexicano; the Dominican Cultural Organization; the Indian American Association of the Lehigh Valley; and the Kenyan Community in the North East.
Thanks to the inclusive partnership behind the Cultural Community Center, there is minimal cost involved with this initiative. The City has dedicated staff time, legal assistance, and in-kind services to the development of the center. Rents to the cultural groups is minimal but provides enough financial resources to make the project self-sustaining.
Recent immigration policy changes have presented increasing challenges for local immigrants. The City has responded by providing support, counsel, and advice at the Cultural Center to immigrant residents of Allentown who might otherwise not be able to afford legal services. Attorneys and representatives from international consulates can use space to meet with local residents in need of advice and services by appointment. Allentown sees the benefit of keeping families together, as well as the value of immigrants working legally within our City to strengthen public safety and increase local tax revenue.
Local attorneys have been recruited to provide pro bono consultation, advice, and services. The City’s Information Technology department is currently working to develop an online appointment-setting site that will assist in connecting local immigrants with attorneys. The City is also working to engage the Philadelphia and New York Consulates to arrange for regular monthly visitation to Allentown so representatives of the consulate can consult with their immigrant population that resides in Allentown.
Allentown, PA– 2018 AAC Finalist: Presentation
City of Allentown
435 Hamilton Street
Allentown, PA 18101