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West Hartford Immigrant Teens Group Offers Social and Community Service Opportunities

Members of the West Hartford Immigrant Teens hold up a project they are working on for Norfeldt's International Night. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford Immigrant Teens is hosting an ‘Art & Chat’ series as well as other volunteer activities to promote socializing, English language practice, and community service.

By Ronni Newton

The teens meeting at the Faxon Library are in various grades, don’t all attend the same school, and may not speak the same primary language, but what they do have in common is the goal of supporting each other and those who have moved to West Hartford from other countries.

West Hartford Immigrant Teens is a new group of volunteers created through a collaboration between the West Hartford Libraries, the West Hartford Mayors Youth Council, and Golden Door Hartford. Open to West Hartford Public School students in grades 8-12, it’s self-described as a “peer to peer group for immigrant teens in West Hartford” with a focus on socializing, community service, and advocacy.

“The group began meeting last summer,” said Kari Karp, West Hartford’s Teen Services librarian. She said many of the teens are recent immigrants, but a few are also allies.

The teens meet every other week for an hour at Faxon Library, where they can socialize, share experiences, practice their English, and plan and organize activities involving community service and support.

“The group started as an offshoot of the Mayor’s Youth Council. One of their platforms was celebrating diversity,” Karp said.

A significant portion of the Feb. 1 meeting was focused on the first event in the “Art & Chat” series, which is being held in the Faxon Library’s community room on Saturday, Feb. 4. Artist Adeebah Alnemar, now a West Hartford resident who is an immigrant from Syria, will be teaching charcoal drawing to those who attend the free event. It’s as much a chance to practice English conversation in a fun and relaxed, casual environment as it is a chance to acquire a new skill.

Erica Bloch, originally from South Africa, will lead a workshop on collage on March 4, at the Faxon Library, from 10 a.m. until noon. Amal Zubeidy (from Iraq & The Netherlands) will lead the final event of the series, on LED embroidery, on April 1 from 10 a.m. until noon at Studio 20 South at the Noah Webster Library.

There are roughly 20 teens who belong to the WHIT group, but not all can attend every meeting. On Wednesday, the 11 present represented nine different countries – Pakistan, Nepal, China, Vietnam, Ukraine, Russia, Somalia, Bolivia, and The Netherlands.

Vitalina, who chairs the group, as well as Taya, one of the members, said the Art & Chat event is intended as a way to expand skills in art as well as to allow for conversation. The event was offered free of charge to people of all ages, and supported through a “Celebrate All of Us” grant from the Thomas F. Kilfoil Memorial Bequest of the West Hartford Library Foundation.

“I think it’s a combination, with the purpose to serve the community,” said Donna, another of the member teens. She said she enjoys being a part of the group for the opportunity to make new friends and share what is going on at each other’s schools.

Cindy, who moved to the U.S. from The Netherlands about 10 months ago, joined the group before the school year began. “I met a lot of people and that helped me when I went to high school,” she said.

Ellen Saltzman-Fiske, president and founder of Golden Door: A Center for Immigrants, is one of the coordinators of the West Hartford Immigrant Teens group. She said that one of the additional purposes of the group is to provide advice to the Board of Education about how immigrant teens can better be served.

“We’re also looking to do outreach to the elementary schools to teach them about the cultures represented in this group,” said Kris, a native of Nepal who is a member of the group.

At the Feb. 1 meeting, following the finalization of plans for the upcoming Art & Chat, the group worked on a display for Norfeldt’s International Night, which is scheduled for Feb. 9.

More information about West Hartford Immigrant Teens can be found on the West Hartford Library’s website.

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