With recent legislation in Arizona about illegal immigrants inflaming debates on immigration across the country, many feel as though the door of American opportunity has been slammed in their faces.
But one local couple plans to make sure the door is open for immigrants, at least here in Hudson County.
Luis Iza and his wife Margarita or “Maggie” of Guttenberg have been working for months, prior to the recent controversy, on a non-profit organization to empower immigrants with programs in Union City and West New York.
“We’ve been blessed,” said Iza. “How can we not be a blessing to others?”
“If we can touch one life, it’s worth it.” – Luis Iza
“If we can touch one life,” said Iza. “It’s worth it.”
History of helping
Both Iza and his wife are Cuban-born immigrants and New York University graduates. They now run a small jewelry business together in Manhattan.
Iza was 9 when he came to the United States and said he was inspired by the organist a local church who guided him culturally in his new country.
His wife, on the other hand, was 21 when she came over after going through a portion of the Castro regime, and had to handle the challenges of immigration as an adult.
“That’s what’s interesting about our combination,” said Iza. “We haven’t forgotten what the experience was like.”
Iza and his wife were volunteering with immigrants at a church in Dumont when the idea for Open Door came to them.
But creating a non-profit organization to help others isn’t new for the couple.
In 1988, the couple founded Operation Exodus in Iza’s childhood neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City, which provides out-of-school education, mentoring relationships, school placement, and parent workshops.
The organization now serves 500 kids in Washington Heights area, promoting personal growth, high educational achievement, and leadership to undeserved children, with an emphasis on the Latino community.
On a mission
The Izas have a clear mission statement to achieve the goals for Open Door. Part of their planning has been “knocking on people’s hearts” for money and time, networking, and actively recruiting volunteers.
Iza said their main goal is to see immigrants become self-sufficient, enter and thrive in the economic mainstream, and strengthen the family.
In addition to their support groups about marriage and managing money, they also hope to create a food pantry (to help the hungry with donations) at a local school.
“Our goal is to reach the parents of students in the area,” said Iza. “And to have those kind of synergies so we can help the parents empower the kids.”
English as a second language
One of Open Door’s main objectives will be to create a free English as a second language (ESL) program to serve Hudson County, particularly in Union City and West New York.
Iza said the ESL classes will help to increase immigrants communication skills – which will be helpful for school and job prospects, and also just for everyday interactions.
They’ve begun an effort to recruit retirees, college students, and young professionals to teach the bi-weekly program.
Similar programs currently do exist in various capacities throughout the county, such as one offered by a local group called CEUS for a nominal fee, but Iza said that they would be happy to collaborate with other existing programs.
“We’re now in the process of networking,” said Iza, who added he is grateful for any leads. “If we’re not all in the trenches together, it’s harder for everybody.”
Registration is underway
The ESL classes are scheduled to begin in the fall. Open Door held their first registration for the free English classes on May 6 to a vibrant response. Their next registration day will be June 3 at 914 21st Street in Union City. The actual classes will most likely take place in West New York.
There are a limited number of spaces available and free child care provided for the program. For more information on the English classes or any of the programs to be offered by Open Door, call (973) 780-3818.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.