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Kelly, an Immigrant Success Story, Overcame COVID-19 to Help Others

Kelly Immigration Services CCNY
Kelly //Photo Credit: Catholic Charities New York

Catholic Charities of New York Celebrates Immigrant Heritage Month

By Pauline Kuranchie

This Immigrant Heritage Month Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York is celebrating immigrants by sharing success stories of clients assisted by our Refugee Resettlement Services team.

One such client is Kelly, an asylee from Colombia, who came to New York right before the pandemic hit. She turned to Catholic Charities for information on benefits and employment assistance in May 2020.

When Kelly fled Colombia she originally went to Florida. Arriving from Colombia with a tourist visa because that was all she could get at the time, Kelly was later granted asylum. She moved to New York for what she saw as better opportunities.

Kelly said it was hard to adjust to the colder weather in New York, as she arrived in winter and had lived in the tropics her whole life, but she has come to like the city. She has built a community of friends and coworkers and feels like her home is here now. 

Kelly attributed her success in the United States to her commitment to learning English. When she arrived, Kelly developed her language skills through books, television, and conversations with others. She had studied English for five years and believes this improved her experience as a new immigrant, helping her better integrate into her new home.

She acknowledged that this was a struggle at times and learning a new language was difficult for her, and could be unattainable for some other immigrants, but it has helped her in the United States. Her English is not perfect, but she has learned a great deal and continues to improve every day.

“When you learn and have more knowledge it makes you free. I think knowledge is a synonym of freedom,” she said. 

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This past quarantine year was difficult for Kelly, but she was dedicated to taking care of herself and her body by eating healthy and exercising, so she could stay strong and healthy in the pandemic.

Taking care of body and mind is important, especially as an immigrant going through a stressful  process, Kelly said. “Most people come to the U.S. and stay in their comfort zone, but I would tell them that there is opportunity out there and sometimes it’s good to keep an open mind and be open to change. There are organizations and people to help them, such as Catholic Charities,” she said. 

The pandemic hit Kelly hard. She was diagnosed with COVID-19 twice in the last year and she reached out to Catholic Charities for help. As a devout Catholic, Kelly knew that this organization would share her values and culture and be able to help her to find better job opportunities that would match her values.

She began attending remote webinars on DACA, American culture, and how to apply for benefits to set herself up to prosper in the U.S. She said that these webinars and classes gave her helpful knowledge about the immigration process. Kelly said that this information was especially helpful because, “I can use this to help my family and friends. It is amazing what Catholic Charities is doing for immigrants like my family and myself in NYC.” 

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Kelly was soon enrolled in the Refugee Social Services Program and assigned a case manager, Liana Antonenko, for more than a year.

Liana and the job developers on the Refugee Resettlement team at Catholic Charities Community Services assessed Kelly and saw the potential for a career in giving back to her community. Kelly was passionate about helping others, knowledgeable about the immigration process, intelligent and organized. “When she told me I could be an immigration counselor I said ‘Me? Immigration counselor?’ I could not see myself in that kind of profession but they did,” Kelly told us.

“She is so amazing,” Kelly said about Liana. “She saw skills in me that I didn't even think I had … Liana is there for everything I need, and always has time to help me out.”

Kelly was hired as an Immigration Counselor at Catholic Charities in April. “I never imagined I would be working my current job, but I like it because I learn a lot and have developed an understanding of how the immigration system works in the U.S.,” she said.