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Neighborhood nominees for The 2017 ILC Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards

The first three nominations for this year’s ILC Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards are in, and they are fine examples of how immigrants are enhancing our neighborhoods. See details on how to nominate by the March 10 deadline here.
TailsYessy Feliz
Tails, Inc., Jamaica Plain
from Dominican Republic

Yessy Feliz opened a very small storefront business for boarding dogs in October 2012. Less than five years later, her business has become so popular that it grosses enough revenue to employ more than 22 people who live in the neighborhood, most of whom speak second languages. Tails is an integral part of the neighborhood’s personality. It not only provides a needed service to local pet owners, it also serves as a convening location for people to interact spontaneously and to celebrate special events.

In October 2016, Feliz seized the opportunity to merge the two storefronts she was operating on opposite sides of Centre Street into one complex of boarding facilities, retail space, and open areas for doggie exercise. She also soundproofed the buildings, much to the delight of the neighbors.


Mario Cruz
Mario’s Sub & Salads, Roxbury
from Guatemala

Mario Cruz started Mario’s Subs & Salads in 2006. The sub shop is a popular destination and even won a people’s choice competition run by Dudley Square Main Streets.

Cruz recently decided that continued success would require some upgrades to keep up with the times and grow. He is expanding the restaurant physically and adding offerings such as burritos, tortas, Spanish stews and tostadas to the menu. He has also added three new part-time jobs.

Cruz is active in community events. He donates food for National Night Out and holiday celebrations and participates in Main Streets promotions.

Khamtam Inthirath
Envision Digital Group, Worcester
from Laos

Inthirath croppedKhamtam Inthirath is the founder of the digital marketing firm Envision Digital Group. In addition to providing superior service to his clients, he is heavily involved in his community. Inthirath shares his expertise as a volunteer business advisor for the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce and a mentor to students at his alma mater, Providence College. His firm donates services, such as videos for Boston and Worcester “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” campaigns, awareness campaigns about the opioid abuse epidemic in MA and a workforce development campaign for National Manufacturing Day. As a member of Discover Central Massachusetts’ PR/marketing committee, Inthirath also promotes travel and tourism to Central Massachusetts.

For his business success and propensity to give back, Inthirath was recently honored as a 40-under-40 recipient by the Worcester Business Journal.

Twenty-Five Years, 25 Memories

From ILC Founder and CEO, Diane Portnoy:

The Immigrant Learning Center was born 25 years ago. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It certainly has taken a whole community of supporters to make The ILC a success. Here are some of my most poignant memories from the last 25 years of the people and events that made The ILC what it is today.

  • In 1992, I knew I wanted to start a free English school. With no fundraising experience, I reached out to friends and family for support. Kay and Gerry Martin and Anders Schroeder were the first to say yes and make my dream possible.
  • On November 9, 1992, my dream came true when the doors of The Immigrant Learning Center opened with three teachers, 60 students and 80 on the waiting list.
  • We grew quickly, and in June 1994, moved from Pleasant Street to our current home at 442 Main Street, where we could serve 100 students with six teachers and a waiting list of 300.
  • An ILC teacher quickly becomes a very important, trusted person in our students’ lives. Sometimes, ILC staff are the only Americans our students know. Teachers were reporting to me that they were getting a lot of life, career, ongoing education and even immigration questions. In 1995, I decided to hire a guidance counselor to give students the assistance they need and let the teachers concentrate on teaching.
  • I visit all the classrooms and try to get to know as many students as possible. In 1996, I noticed a group of a dozen grandmothers who spoke no English and were the primary care givers for their grandchildren. Remembering the struggles of my own parents, we created Family Literacy classes to help them navigate the U.S. education system and promote literacy at home.
  • Another unmet need became clear in 1997. Many of our students wanted to become U.S. citizens and were asking teachers and the guidance counselor for help. Knowing how important citizenship is and remembering how hard my parents studied for the test, I started a Citizenship Class.
  • Over 25 years, we’ve served students from 118 different countries. Students share a classroom with strangers from a dozen different countries and bond like family. To celebrate this diversity, we created an annual International Day in 1999 where students can celebrate and share their cultural heritage.
  • The school and I have received many honors and recognition over the years. One of the highlights of my life came in May 2001 when I was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. It was my second time on Ellis Island, the first being when I arrived from Germany as a child. I’ll never forget seeing my and my parent’s names etched on the wall there.
  • One of the lowest points in my life also came in 2001 on September 11. In the days and weeks following the attacks the classrooms emptied. Students were afraid to come to school because strangers were accosting them on the street. I knew I had to do something to address public opinion of immigrants, and the seeds of the Public Education Institute started to grow.
  • On April 5, 2002, we marked the expansion of The ILC to the first floor of 442 Main Street with a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by a crowd of supporters including Rep. Chris Fallon and Mayor Richard Howard. It felt like we made the big time when the Rodman & Rodman sign on the front of the building was replaced by The Immigrant Learning Center. The extra space allowed us to serve 320 students and expand the computer lab.
  • One of our teachers with a personal interest in theater, Kathleen Klose, wanted to help students tell their stories and started meeting with a handful of students before class. In August 2003, they performed If You Could Hear My Voice at the Malden Library. Watching that first performance, I knew we had something special. The Theater Class has been part of our offerings ever since.
  • After more than a year of planning, Dr. Marcia Drew Hohn agreed to leave her post as director of Northeast SABES (System for Adult Basic Education Support) to launch The ILC public education effort in July 2003.
  • In 2004, IBM donated 27 new computers to transform our patched together collection of computers into a real computer lab where to this day every student has access.
  • Governor Mitt Romney visited The ILC on May 13, 2004, to meet with 120 students and learn firsthand how public and private investment in adult literacy programs, particularly for immigrants and refugees, ultimately benefits the commonwealth.
  • The first two studies to come out of the Public Education Program (now the Public Education Institute), Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Neighborhood Revitalization and Immigrant Homebuyers in Lawrence and Lowell, were unveiled to more than 125 business and community leaders at the Omni Parker House on December 1, 2005.
  • Noticing that students who struggled the most in our classes were those with little or no literacy in their native language, the Literacy Program was launched in 2006. From humble beginnings as a “one-room school house,” it has evolved into a sophisticated multi-level program that serves as a model in the region.
  • Many students have offered to give back over the years, but Tam, a Senior Conversation student from Vietnam, stands out. Starting in 2009, each year he brings me 100 one dollar bills.
  • Although Malden has one of the largest foreign-born populations in the area, new citizens had to go elsewhere to be sworn-in. That changed in 2011 when The ILC sponsored our first, annual swearing-in ceremony. There’s something very special about watching people of every color from many religions, ages and economic statuses hold the American flag in one hand and raise the other to take the oath of citizenship. It reminds me of being eight years old and watching my parents become U.S. citizens.
  • In 2011, with 400 students enrolled I finally had to admit I couldn’t manage it all myself. Karen Oakley was promoted from teacher to the newly-created position of director of English language programs.
  • I wanted a university partner to get the national attention needed for our research, and, in 2011, I identified George Mason University (GMU) as the best choice. I recall the first meeting in Virginia where they told me it couldn’t work as well as the meeting where we signed the contract that created the Institute for Immigration Research at GMU.
  • The research of the Public Education Institute showed over and over that immigrant entrepreneurs are drivers of our economy. In 2012, we decided to spotlight their contributions at the annual ILC Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards. We underestimated the attendance and had to scramble for seats at the last minute. With the room bursting with people, and the entrepreneurs bursting with pride, we started a tradition that will last for many years.
  • We started offering an annual, free summer workshop on immigration for educators in 2004, but what stands out in my memory was the first time we took it online in 2012. We overcame a slew of technical challenges with a budget of $0. This important shift has allowed us to reach hundreds of educators across the country.
  • Hearing the same disparaging un-truths being told about today’s immigrants that have been used for hundreds of years, I finally decided to stop yelling back at that the television news and do something. We commissioned 11 experts to tell the stories of 11 different ethnic groups in the book Immigrant Struggles, Immigrant Gifts. I will always remember the feeling of accomplishment the first time I held the book in my hands.
  • Our teachers and counselors help students with their next steps, such as enrolling in classes or finding a job, but were at a loss when students wanted to start a business. The solution came in 2016 when we launched the Entrepreneur Class. Since so much of our work in Public Education is touting the virtues of immigrant entrepreneurs, this felt like the perfect “next step” for us.
  • The ILC has never advertised. All our students come to us from word of mouth. It’s not uncommon for former students to bring in friends and family to register. It’s always a joy for me to see returning students and learn what they have made of their lives. The most recent was in January 2017 when Narciso came in to register his cousin and tell us he had opened his own auto body shop.

Twenty-five years, 25 cities

The Immigrant Learning Center is located in Malden but draws students from 88 Greater Boston communities and one in Rhode Island. In fact, since the founding 25 years ago, less than half of the immigrants and refugees who learned English with us have come from Malden. In honor of the 25th anniversary, here is a list of the top 25 cities of residence for ILC students.


1. Malden, MA 11. Quincy, MA 21. Brookline, MA
2. Everett, MA 12. Saugus, MA 22. Allston, MA
3. Revere, MA 13. Dorchester, MA 23. Winchester, MA
4. Medford, MA 14. Brighton, MA 24.Charlestown, MA
5. Melrose, MA 15. Stoneham, MA 25. Newton, MA
6. East Boston, MA 16. Cambridge, MA
7. Somerville, MA 17. Woburn, MA
8.Boston, MA 18. Wakefield, MA
9. Chelsea, MA 19. Winthrop, MA
10. Lynn, MA 20. Arlington, MA

New citizens sworn-in at ILC-sponsored event.

2016 New Citizen Swearing-in Ceremony

We now have 148 new citizens in Massachusetts. They were sworn-in at Malden High School on Tuesday, a day none of them will forget. Diane Portnoy shared her own journey from refugee to U.S. citizen to founder of The Immigrant Learning Center (ILC) with the hopeful crowd. She also thanked them, as she does every year, for becoming Americans and making our country stronger.

The ILC sponsors this event every year in Malden, one of the most diverse towns in the commonwealth. This year, 84 of them were registered to vote by our partner, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. This was one of the last ceremonies before the Nov. 8 election. Although the standard deadline to register in Massachusetts is Wednesday, October 19, the Secretary of State’s office says that new citizens can apply in person at their town hall up until 4 p.m. on Nov. 7.

Anyone interested in becoming a citizen should contact the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Slide Show of ILC-sponsored ceremonies from Flickr

Police and community advocates come together to share integration strategies


We’re here to provide a safe and secure community for immigrants. We’re here, and we need them to collaborate with us.
Chief Brian Kyes, Chelsea, MA, Police Department


Denzil Mohammed moderates a panel featuring, clockwise from top left: Chief Brian Kyes, Chelsea, MA, Police Department; Caitlin Gokey, Vera Institute of Justice; Zahra Billoo, Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area; and Jessica Bernal and Erin Fichter, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Omaha, NE.

Denzil Mohammed moderates a panel featuring, clockwise from top center: Chief Brian Kyes, Chelsea, MA, Police Department; Caitlin Gokey, Vera Institute of Justice; Zahra Billoo, Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area; and Jessica Bernal and Erin Fichter, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Omaha, NE.

Building relationships is the key to integrating law enforcement, immigrants and refugees. New Americans should know that collaborating and communicating their priorities with police allows everyone to focus on those issues together.

This was the main takeaway from Building United Communities: Immigrants, Cops and Crime, the latest free webinar from The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc. (ILC) Public Education Institute in Malden, MA, on October 6, 2016. Attendees from 40 states learned from experts in law enforcement, immigrant integration and messaging while sharing their own ideas with colleagues from around the country.

What are ways to build relationships?

  • Caitlin Gokey of the Vera Institute of Justice and Jessical Bernal and Erin Fichter of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Omaha, NE, emphasized building coalitions and alliances among community leaders, especially from communities of color or those that are under-resourced.
  • Chief Brian Kyes of the Chelsea, MA, Police Department and Zahra Billoo of the Council on American-Islamic Relations agreed on using political pressure on police departments as an alternative by engaging other civic leaders or police chiefs in neighboring counties.

Other highlights from the webinar:

  • Denzil Mohammed of The ILC Public Education Institute helped dispel several immigration myths: Immigrants are assets to the economy, pay taxes into systems that support Americans and commit fewer crimes than U.S.-born Americans. Violent crime rates tend to decrease as concentrations of immigrants increase.
  • Given the current public discourse, the webinar also featured Julie Fisher-Rowe of the Opportunity Agenda who gave research-based messaging techniques for talking about immigrants in communities. She noted that when afraid or angry, the brain does not respond well to logic, so she advocated for framing conversations in terms of shared values by asking, “What kind of community do we want to be: one that encourages participation and contribution, or one that excludes and divides?”

Click here for resources and recordings.

Click here to be informed of the dates of the next webinar.

One brave immigrant demonstrates the innovation that immigration makes possible.

The American Heart Association, Verily Life Sciences and AstraZeneca announced the winner of the $75 million One Brave Idea Research Award on Wednesday. The winner, Dr. Calum MacRae, is a Scottish immigrant and chief of Cardiovascular Medicine at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. His vision for uncovering the causes of heart disease and the potential to prevent it was selected from 350 submissions worldwide.


It is not a surprise to us that the winner is an immigrant. Nor is it a surprise that many members of his team are immigrants or that Verily Life Sciences, which contributed $25 million of the prize money, is a division of Alphabet, Inc., famously founded by Russian immigrant Sergey Brin. Immigration is the secret sauce that keeps this country at the forefront of innovation.

  • Fifty-one percent of the medical scientists in Massachusetts are foreign-born.
  • Forty-two percent of the researchers at the top seven U.S. cancer research centers are foreign-born.
  • Thirty-one percent of all U.S. Nobel laureates are foreign-born.
  • The 2003 National Survey of College Graduates shows that immigrants patent at double the native-born rate.

The list could go on and on. Although it cannot be measured, there is something innately entrepreneurial and innovative about immigrating. The combination of passion, drive, talent and the American Dream make it possible. Dr. Calum MacRae himself said, “Landing in America was probably the defining moment of my life….There was this potential for change and dynamism that was unique.” It’s possible he might not have achieved such astounding success had he not left his home country. We, at The ILC, are very happy to have him here.

To learn more about immigrants in health care, click here.

To learn more about immigrant Nobel Prize winners, click here.

Mass. teachers connect to immigration past and present at The ILC


Brazilian immigrants Brunna and Mike Peroni of Peroni’s Jewelry in Malden share their stories with teachers as part of an immigrant business story tour during the workshop.

Brazilian immigrants Brunna and Mike Peroni of Peroni’s Jewelry in Malden share their stories with teachers as part of an immigrant business story tour during the workshop.

Immigrants have been vital contributors to Boston’s history and continue to enhance the community economically and socially. The diversity they add to Boston and the U.S. is reflected in the classroom. Nationally, one in four students is an immigrant or the child of an immigrant, and students whose first language is not English make up 46 percent of Boston Public Schools (BPS).

These are a few of the takeaways that teachers from across Massachusetts learned during a two-day professional development workshop held at The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc. (ILC) on August 25 and 26, 2016. The event was co-hosted by BPS, Primary Source, the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement and The ILC Public Education Institute.

The ILC Public Education Institute’s immigration timeline spans the 1600s to the present.

The ILC Public Education Institute’s immigration timeline spans the 1600s to the present.

The ILC Public Education Institute and BPS offered the latest data on immigrants and immigrant students in our local schools interwoven with personal stories and the concept that America is a nation of immigrants. The teachers opened the workshop by placing themselves on an immigration timeline (pictured right) and sharing how and when they or their families immigrated to the U.S.

Marilynn Johnson, PhD, author of The New Bostonians: How Immigrants Have Transformed the Metro Area Since the 1960s, presented on the contributions of the foreign-born since the mid-20th century to Boston’s thriving landscape today. Primary Source and Boston International Newcomers Academy discussed lesson planning ideas with participants. A highlight of the workshop was an Immigrant Business Story Tour where Denzil Mohammed and Crystal Ye of The ILC Public Education Institute guided participants on a walking tour of Malden to hear the powerful stories of foreign-born entrepreneurs.

At the close of the workshop, attendees noted that, armed with stories, data and lesson plans, they were invigorated and excited to teach their classes this fall.

Mass. teachers to learn best practices for diverse classrooms at The ILC

BPS FB post

More than a quarter million children in Massachusetts are immigrants or have immigrant parents. What will their classroom experiences be this coming academic year?

Boston Public School’s History and Social Studies Department is conducting a free, two-day workshop on current immigration to the Boston area for K-12 teachers in Massachusetts titled New Bostonians: The Latest Chapter in Boston’s Immigration Story on August 25 and 26, 2016, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc. (ILC) in Malden. Given the prevalence of immigration in public discourse today and the changing demographics of our classrooms, The ILC Public Education Institute is pleased not only to host this important workshop but also to present along with Primary Source and the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement (formerly New Bostonians).

K-12 teachers will learn the latest immigration data, how to work with immigrant students to achieve success, learning styles and motivations of immigrant students, and much more. There will also be a special walking “story tour” of Malden’s immigrant-owned businesses to hear the entrepreneurs’ journeys and see how immigrants are revitalizing neighborhoods.

Speakers include Dr. Marilynn Johnson of Boston College and author of The New Bostonians: How Immigrants Have Transformed the Metro Area Since the 1960s; Primary Source Program Director Dr. Susan Zeiger; Boston Public Schools Assistant Director of History and Social Studies Josue Sakata; Frances Bass, history teacher at Boston International Newcomers Academy, and The ILC Public Education Institute Program Specialist Denzil Mohammed.

For more information, contact Josue Sakata at

Leaders in education share strategies and lesson plans to empower immigrant students


A student from the film “Living Undocumented” shares her story as part of the module Empowering Immigrant Students and Dreamers.

Immigrant students are assets to classrooms, immigrant parents are very much interested in their children’s education, and schools need to actively engage with immigrants instead of only providing them with information.
These are some of the assertions made by the experts in the free, annual, online workshop Immigrant Student Success: Models and Tools for K-12 and Adult Educators, hosted by The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc. (ILC) Public Education Institute and the American Immigration Council on July 12 and 13, 2016. Participants from 35 states collaborated with education experts from across the country on lesson plans and strategies to create a culture of respect in classrooms, debunking myths, building relationships with immigrant parents and communities, and empowering U.S.- and foreign-born students alike.

This year’s free online workshop featured a record number of 13 esteemed presenters with expertise in K-12 education, adult education and workforce development: Federico Salas-Isnardi, Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy and Learning; Claire Tesh and Sara Burnett, American Immigration Council; Dr. Usha Tummala-Narra, Boston College; Dr. Tatyana Kleyn, City College of New York; Eileen Kugler, Embrace Diverse Schools; Dana Brown, Malden High School; Julie Mann, Newcomers High School; Dr. Steve Burby, Brentwood School District; Dr. Andrea Honigsfeld, Molloy College; Alaísa Grudzinski, psychotherapist; Andrea Garcia-Fernandez, Year Up and a former undocumented student; and Denzil Mohammed, The ILC Public Education Institute.

Some of the main takeaways included:

  • Storytelling breaks stereotypes, makes “foreigners” human and real, and helps students relate with each other and be empowered/inspired.
  • Be aware of all the prejudices and biases you bring into the classroom as an educator, and then help your students realize their own. Make a safe space for honest and open discussion and a place to tell their stories.
  • Immigrant students often experience more negative psychological outcomes than American-born peers due to stress of migration, discrimination and other acculturative stress (e.g. intergenerational conflict)
  • Parents can be valuable partners in education. Reach out to them in places where they’re comfortable; don’t just have them come to you.
Live panel discussion featuring clockwise from top left, Dr. Tatyana Kleyn, Denzil Mohammed, Dana Brown, Eileen Kugler and Claire Tesh.

Live panel discussion featuring clockwise from top left, Dr. Tatyana Kleyn, Denzil Mohammed, Dana Brown, Eileen Kugler and Claire Tesh.

Learn more with recordings, presentations and other resources from the online workshop.
The ILC Public Education Institute hosts free webinars and online workshops throughout the year that bring immigration experts together to offer best practices to educators, immigrant-serving organizations and faith communities. To be notified of the dates of the next free webinar, sign up here.

New report details immigrants’ vital contributions to U.S. health care

I think the health care system in Boston would collapse without immigrants.
Jerry Rubin, Director, Jewish Vocational Services of Greater Boston

Immigrants are vital contributors to U.S. health care, particularly in the fields of medicine and medical science, long-term care and nursing. Immigrants in Health Care: Keeping Americans Healthy Through Care and Innovation is a new report published by The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc. (ILC) and the Institute for Immigration Research, a joint venture between George Mason University (GMU) and The ILC.

The report finds that immigrants play outsized and critical roles in American health in a number of ways including:

  • Immigrants fill gaps:
    • 46 percent of immigrant physicians go into internal medicine, where there is a lack of doctors, versus only 15 percent of U.S. medical graduates.
  • Immigrants innovate:
    • Immigrants are 42 percent of researchers in the top seven cancer centers in the U.S.
  • Immigrants bring necessary cultural and linguistic skills:
    • As well as aging and living longer, the U.S. population is diversifying in race and ethnicity. Immigrants help patients overcome language and cultural barriers to access proper medical care, especially in the nursing field.

Given the imperative role of immigrants in health care, the report makes recommendations for practitioners, policymakers and more including:

  • For the health care field:
    • Upper-level management and other stakeholders in health care should be more aware of and devote more resources to integrating immigrants into the health sector.
  • For workforce development:
    • Invest in programs for education and training programs in health care careers from the aid level to the professional level including transitional education programs for under-educated workers.
  • For local government:
    • Bring together industry workers and policymakers to redefine and standardize clinical tasks thereby streamlining delivery of care.

Click here to learn more about the report, download the full report and fact sheet and watch video interviews with two of the immigrant workers profiled.

Immigrants in Health Care: Keeping Americans Healthy Through Care and Innovation is written by Marcia Drew Hohn, EdD, retired director of The ILC Public Education Institute; Justin P. Lowry, PhD, Post Doctoral Research Fellow, and James C. Witte, PhD, Director, both of the Institute for Immigration Research at GMU; and José Ramón Fernández-Peña, MD, Associate Department Chair, Department of Health Education, of San Francisco State University and the Welcome Back Initiative.

The report was debuted in a free webinar hosted by The ILC Public Education Institute featuring representatives from the National Skills Coalition, Tufts University, the Welcome Back Initiative and more. Click here to view presentations and recordings from the webinar. To learn about all of the Institute’s free webinars, click here.

The Immigrant Learning Center, 442 Main Street, Malden, Massachusetts, 02148     (781) 322-9777

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