Eastern European Women Impacting Communities

The Immigrant Learning Center would not exist if it were not for the vision of one important Eastern European immigrant: Diane Portnoy. Diane and her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Poland shortly after the end of WWII, and her experiences watching her parents struggle to learn English led Diane to open The Immigrant Learning Center in 1992.

In the past 20 years, there has been another wave of Eastern European immigration and there are now more than two million immigrants from countries such as Poland, Romania and Russia. While this number of Eastern European immigrants may seem large, they only actually account for 4.8 percent of the total U.S. foreign-born population. Despite this, their achievements are vast. Immigrants from Eastern Europe have founded key Fortune 500 companies such as Alphabet (Google) and occupy four of the five top spots in a list of  America’s wealthiest immigrants.

They are also over-represented when it comes to this year’s Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards. In our neighborhood business category, Eastern Europeans account for 20 percent of nominations, and are all women! They are creating jobs and having significant impact on their communities, just like Diane Portnoy has been doing for the past 25 years in Malden. Meet some of these inspirational women below:

Jitka Borowick

Jitka Borowick, Cleangreen, Inc. – Barnstable
From the Czech Republic

Jitka Borowick came to the U.S. in 2003 from the Czech Republic to further her education. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she decided to pursue her dream of starting her own business and doing something positive for the environment. In 2008, she opened Cleangreen, a natural cleaning company, out of her home. Today, Cleangreen is a Cape and Islands Green verified business with an office in Barnstable, four cars and a crew of 19 people covering residential and commercial clients throughout Cape Cod. Borowick is now looking to expand business to Nantucket and Falmouth.

Margarita Druker

Margarita Druker, Persona Jewelry – Boston
From Moldova

Early in her career, Margarita Druker was at the forefront of the “pop-up” business model (limited time businesses that take advantage of empty venues) in Boston and New York’s restaurant and entertainment industries. In 2004, at age 22, she found a location to call her own and opened Persona Jewelry at the Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square. The business has since moved to Beacon Hill, where it continues to thrive. Her entrepreneurial spirit has driven her to open six additional stores around the country and develop an online jewelry insurance and appraisal business. She was named a business innovator by the Boston Business Journal in 2008.

Inna Khitrik

Inna Khitrik, Inna’s Kitchen – Boston
From Russia

Inna Khitrik created Inna’s Kitchen to share “Jewish Cuisine from Around the World,” bringing together wide variety of traditional dishes in one place. Inna’s was one of the Boston Public Market’s inaugural vendors. She brings to the community a celebration of shared culture and history through a love of food. Khitrik also offers cooking courses to share her beloved recipes, and she continues to grow and increase employment opportunities by designing a line of frozen food that will be delivered across the city.

Ekaterina Morozova

Ekaterina Morozova, Lash Boutique – Hyannis
From Russia

Katrina Morozova is the owner and CEO of Lash Boutique Cape Cod and Plymouth. Before moving to the United States at age 19, Katrina worked as an eyelash specialist in Russia. At the time, no one was doing lash extensions on Cape Cod. She built a clientele and in 2014 opened her own business. Within six months of operation, she was in need of more employees and a bigger space. She now has a staff of 14 and two locations of Lash Boutique with a third set to open in April. Morozova’s influence extends beyond the Cape. Clients drive up to an hour and a half to visit her shops.

Life Science Nominees Show Tenacity

The nominees in The 2018 ILC Immigrant Entrepreneur Life Science Category hail from four different countries in three separate continents, but are united by their perseverance. From developing lab-grown platelets that reduce the need for stem-cell donors, to designing transformative gene therapies, each nominee has founded companies that seek to drastically improve human health. This quest to save lives is a long game requiring grit, bravery and a determination to change the world. If that’s not the definition of a consummate immigrant entrepreneur, then what is?

Dr. Guangping Gao

Dr. Guanping Gao, Voyager Therapeutics
From China

Dr. Guangping Gao co-founded Voyager Therapeutics in 2014 to develop and deliver life-changing gene therapies to people around the world living with severe neurological diseases. His work is based on a novel primate adeno-associated virus (AAV) family he discovered and vectorized. He now owns more than 26 patents relating to AAV medical work. This method was instrumental in reviving the gene therapy field, hugely impacting many currently untreatable and deadly human diseases, such as advanced Parkinson’s disease, ALS, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and severe, chronic pain. This impressive pipeline has attracted numerous high-profile investments

Dr. Michael Koeris

Dr. Michael Koeris, Sample6 Technologies
From Germany

Dr. Michael Koeris is the co-founder and CEO of Sample6. His mission with Sample6 is to secure the global food supply chain by changing and improving the way food production is being tested for bacterial pathogens. The inventions he and his team made at Sample6 allow for detection of dangerous pathogens in the food supply chain in order to catch them before food reaches the market. His innovation already helps customers like Unilever secure their food production, and it can be more broadly applied to reduce hospital acquired infections

Dr. Bernat Olle

Dr. Bernat Olle, Vedanta Biosciences
From Spain

Dr. Bernat Olle is the co-founder and CEO of Vedanta Biosciences. The company is developing a new class of drugs that work by modulating the human microbiome, which is increasingly recognized as a key factor in autoimmune, metabolic and infectious diseases. Vedanta has generated a pipeline of drug candidates including a candidate in inflammatory bowel diseases licensed to Johnson & Johnson in 2015 in the largest deal in the microbiome space to date by a pharmaceutical company. The drug is now being brought into clinical trials for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. A second Vedanta drug candidate for treatment of recurrent C. difficile infections started clinical trials in 2017.

Dr. Jonathan Thon

Dr. Jonathan Thon, Platelet BioGenesis
From Canada

Dr. Jonathan Thon is the co-Founder and CEO/CSO for Platelet BioGenesis, a biotech startup developing a process to produce life-saving human platelets from stem cells for therapeutic applications. Platelets are currently sourced entirely from human volunteer donors, and by 2019, demand will exceed supply by 533,000 units. By removing the volunteer donor, the company can make platelets that are cheaper, safer and available on demand. Thon invented the platelet platform in his laboratory at Harvard Medical School while an assistant professor. He left that position to build Platelet BioGenesis but retains a lecturer position at Harvard.

Remembering the “Apostle of the Deaf” this Deaf History Month

Laurent ClercCompared to names like Helen Keller or actress Marlee Matlin, Laurent Clerc may not be the first person that springs to mind when you think of prominent Deaf figures in American culture. This National Deaf History Month we want to shine a light on the immense contributions of this immigrant often cited as the most important individual in American Deaf history.

Born in France in the late eighteenth-century, Clerc became Deaf as an infant due to a childhood accident. After learning and later teaching French Sign Language in Paris, he was approached by Thomas Gallaudet who encouraged him to move to the United States where together they co-founded the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut, the oldest permanent school for the Deaf in the country.

Prior to Clerc’s arrival in America, there was no formal sign language in the country, and generations of Deaf children, Gallaudet included, had no means of communication and were often cast aside by families and schools. This meant Clerc’s introduction of French Sign Language to New England was revolutionary, and the man who gave many people a voice gained the nickname “The Apostle of the Deaf.”

The influence of this Deaf, French immigrant is still felt very strongly today. Although it’s now known as American Sign Language (ASL), it remains French at its core, and would doubtless not exist without Clerc. What’s more, the Deaf schools and universities that were founded thanks to his impact have made America an attractive place for Deaf immigrants even today.

Many countries around the world don’t have adequate support structure in place for their Deaf citizens, and sometimes even violently persecute them, so America is viewed as a safe haven by many Deaf refugees. In places like Kansas City, there are even specific programs for Deaf immigrants to learn ASL and become integrated with the native Deaf community. If one thing is for sure, it’s that this gift of communication could not have happened without trailblazers like Clerc: one immigrant paying it forward for generations of others.


Rosie Busiakiewicz, Assistant Director of the ILC Public Education Institute demonstrates the sign for immigration.
Rosie Busiakiewicz demonstrates the sign for immigration.



From Statistics to Storytelling

The data on immigration and our economy is impressive. Although immigrants only make up 13 percent of the population, they constitute 17 percent of our labor force, and their share of contributions to America’s GDP is 16 percent. Are these facts enough to change minds? The research says no.

In our latest webinar on February 1, 2018, Making Facts Matter: Immigrants, the Economy and Words that Work, Marisa Gerstein Pineau from the FrameWorks Institute argued that we should never assume that “data speaks for itself.” If the facts are presented alone, then there is a chance an intended message will get lost or completely reinterpreted. For example, although one person may read the above statistics and glean that immigrants contribute to our economy in outsized proportions compared to their numbers, someone else may interpret that immigrants displace U.S.-born workers.

One way to ensure our preferred narratives get across is through storytelling. When we share stories, we naturally talk about shared values, we give intuitive explanations of how things work and we may even offer solutions based on the case we’ve described. This way of discussing immigration can create understanding, support and a sense in the listener that solutions are achievable, which is a powerful trifecta that helps to change minds.

shared values, explanation, solutions form a narrative


The potential of storytelling has not passed by the immigrant community; there are many organizations solely committed to sharing immigrants’ experiences, and social media is replete with stories in a variety of formats. But what are the best practices for storytelling?

The most common pitfall is focusing a story on just one person. These stories often exist to create empathy and even pity, but these emotions are rarely effective. FrameWorks’ research shows people empathize with only one person at a time and don’t tend to extend those feelings toward entire groups facing the same conditions.The focus of a pro-immigrant narrative should be to show why a whole group deserves to stay in America not just one individual.

One way to ensure you don’t fall into the trap of individualism is to make a place the protagonist of your story. In many areas of the United States, there are towns or neighborhoods to which you can point that were suffering from low population rates and empty storefronts until immigrants moved in and helped revitalize the area. Stories like this are great for providing relatable and accessible context to the masses of data available on immigrant contributions to revitalization, and some of the most successful examples don’t even present the immigrants at all.

Lastly, appealing to American values about shared prosperity, human dignity and hardworking families is proven to work, as is ending your story with a pragmatic offering such as “we need better policies to make sure our economy stays strong. One thing we could do is offer permanent work authorization to DREAMers.” If all else fails, make sure that values, explanations and solutions are the anchors of your narrative.




Framing Against Fear


Suggestions from the FrameWorks Institute’s Marisa Gerstein Pineau, PhD, during the webinar Immigration, Safety and Security.
Suggestions from the FrameWorks Institute’s Marisa Gerstein Pineau, PhD,
during the webinar Immigration, Safety and Security.


According to the Pew Research Center, for voters who supported the President in the 2016 election, the biggest issues facing the country were not jobs or the economy but illegal immigration and terrorism. These two issues are often conflated, yet the data tells a completely different story: the incarceration rate of undocumented immigrants is far lower than average, and the annual rate of being killed by foreign-born terrorism is less than 0.4 percent. Unfortunately, the facts are often not enough to change minds. If we truly want to change the immigration conversation, we must frame facts in a context that resonates with the listener and avoid phrases that have negative associations.

Framing Against Fear summaryFraming messages puts an idea into context for fuller understanding and gives the speaker power to shift the conversation. Different frames can apply depending on the audience in order to find common ground. Stories of immigrants, for example, can be framed as an American story appealing to common values creating a feeling of unity rather than otherness. Every communication is more effective with thoughtful framing, even messages on social media with limited word counts. Retweeting or reposting a myth to refute it is tempting, but repeating misinformation perpetuates the idea and strengthens false associations. Instead, project the truth in the positive form. For example, a post saying “Immigrants are criminals” can be corrected with “Immigrants have significantly lower incarceration rates and make outsized contributions to our communities.”

Experts in research, advocacy, law enforcement and framing joined The Immigrant Learning Center’s Public Education Institute for a free webinar on Immigration, Safety and Security on October 4, 2017, to show how to change the conversation on immigrants, refugees and Americans’ safety. Click here to access recordings and slides from the webinar as well as a handy webinar summary.

Tips for teachers to change the immigration conversation

Denzil Mohammed of The ILC Public Education Institute presents “Immigrants: Stats & Strategies to Change the Conversation” at the Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education’s NETWORK 2017 Conference.
Denzil Mohammed of The ILC Public Education Institute presents “Immigrants: Stats & Strategies to Change the Conversation” at the Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education’s NETWORK 2017 Conference.


Adult educators looking to retake the immigration narrative got proven strategies from The ILC Public Education Institute’s Denzil Mohammed. At the Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education’s NETWORK 2017 Conference in Marlborough, MA, on May 12, 2017, Denzil equipped teachers and administrators with “Stats and Strategies to Change the Immigration Conversation.”

Using findings from The FrameWorks Institute and The Opportunity Agenda revealed in the Institute’s February 23 webinar, Taking Back the Narrative, Denzil outlined research-based strategies for talking about immigration that educators can employ in and outside the classroom:


  • To promote a new narrative, always start with the facts and don’t repeat the myths when refuting them.
  • It is imperative that we frame immigration in terms of American values, such as shared prosperity or humanitarianism.
  • Offer pragmatic solutions to perceived problems and emphasize how other options are impractical.



When asked whether changing the conversation was feasible given the repeated rhetoric in the national immigration discussion, Denzil explained that countering the narrative will require a sustained approach rather than just one conversation.

For more messaging strategies and techniques, see:

Top Messaging Tips (PDF)
Words That Work: How to Talk About Immigrants and Immigration (video)

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.

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 Director Denzil Mohammed.

For more information, contact Josue Sakata at jsakata@bostonpublicschools.org.

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.
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.