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Riis Settlement gets $20K national award

Long Island City's Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement House has won national recognition for its immigrant project for the second year in a row.

The Queensbridge Houses-based nonprofit received a $20,000 Family Strengthening Award from the United Neighborhood Centers of America and the Annie E. Casey Foundation for its work with immigrant families.

"Riis Settlement's Adult Education and Immigrant Services Program is designed to promote strong, capable and economically successful families," Communications Director Danielle Haynes-Amran said in a release.

Since its inception in 2001, the Immigrant Services Program has served more than 2,000 people, said Alison Egic, the program's director. Program participants do not have to be Queensbridge residents, Egan said, noting only 26 percent are from the housing projects.

"The only requirement that we have is that they be over 16," she said.

The program concentrates on helping immigrant families understand the importance of developing strong social networks, getting a quality education, safe streets and the availability of responsive services.

Classes teach immigrants crucial skills like how to mail a letter, fill out a job application, have a telephone conversation with the doctor's office and write to their children's teacher. With Latinos and Caribbeans comprising 87 percent of the Riis Settlement's participants, language is a major focus.

"I think the most difficult thing for many immigrants is learning to speak a new language and overcoming the language barrier," Egic said. "As immigrants improve their English skills, they are able to get better paying jobs, enter and complete post-secondary education and become more involved in their community."

The Riis Settlement is currently looking for more funding to begin providing legal services in the near future and increase its one-on-one case assistance capacity. The $20,000 certainly will not hurt.

"We are truly honored by this award," Executive Director William Newlin said in a prepared statement. "Strengthening families is an integral part of our mission at Riis Settlement, where we strive to be a catalyst for change in the western Queens community."

The Riis Settlement House was founded in 1888 in Manhattan by legendary photographer and Danish immigrant Jacob Riis, whose book, "How the Other Half Lives," raised awareness of the plight of the American poor.

Initially the Settlement House offered sewing classes, mothers clubs, health care, a summer camp and a penny provident bank.

In the 1940s, it began to offer programs for public housing residents in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The Settlement House moved all its activities to the Queensbridge Houses in 1950.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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