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, 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, 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’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, 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. 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, 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, 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, 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

Compared 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.



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.


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.


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.