NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales toured New Rochelle's Office of New Americans on Monday to check its progress and meet the people whose live it's changing.
The New Rochelle Office Of New Americans Opportunity Center is one of 27 centers across the state that help immigrants apply for citizenship, study for citizenship exams, learn English, find affordable food and provide daycare and after school programming for their children. The staff is mostly bilingual and volunteer-based.
The center, which is funded by state grants, has naturalized more than 100 people, officials said, and is visited by hundreds of people every day.
“I’m excited to see as much as I can about how these are working," Perales said. The reports I’m getting say this place is doing very, very well.”
He addressed a room full of patrons, volunteers and board members, explaining the importance of the center and why he and Gov. Andrew Cuomo established them.
“The governor wanted me to come here to see all of you and to see if what we had hoped to do is happening here,” Perales said. “That you’re learning English and that many of you are becoming citizens. I know they are doing a wonderful job, but I just wanted to see for myself. I am happy to be here and want to congratulate the volunteers and everyone who comes to help, and everyone who comes to learn English.”
Perales toured the facility, including the new computer lab, which was given via government grant. The computers are used to aid English as a Second Language courses and prepare people for the citizenship examination.
“In New York, we have the fourth largest immigration population," he said. The important thing is we have a tradition in New York City of welcoming newcomers. It became clear to us that the state needs to do more to welcome these people. We can’t rely on the federal government."
Jackie Agudelo, of White Plains, is head director of the center. She opened it in 2005.
“The main reason I opened this center is because of the community need,” she said.
Louis Iacopetta, of New Rochelle, is a member of the board of the directors for the center.
“People come from all over Westchester. New Rochelle probably has the largest Latino population in the Lower Hudson Valley," he said. "There’s always a need for these facilities."
David Peters , another board member, called the center "steeped in tradition."
"It is a center that speaks for individuals unable to navigate systems. I think that there are a number of people who have a challenge in navigating systems, and I think this center does a really great job in helping people learn better how to do that," he said. "That’s what caught my attention and made me want to get more involved.”
The New Rochelle Office Of New Americans Opportunity Center is located at 360 North Ave. An additional office is located in White Plains.