The International Center in New York is going to be closed on April 20, 2012, after more than 50 years of serving the immigrants of the great community of New York City and enriching the lives of many thousands of volunteers.
For me, as for so many others, the International Center has been my home away from home.
I came to New York City in the summer of 1985, for the same reason that many of you have--to have an adventure, to acquire professional experience, and to enter one of the focal points of human culture to experience new things and to learn. Soon after, I befriended a Taiwanese family in my neighborhood in Astoria, and found myself trying to help them to learn English. I had a room-mate from Brazil, and one day I was moved to explicate a poem for him, "Fern Hill" by the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. He was moved by its beauty, and I felt a new sense of fulfilment. Before the end of the year I was a volunteer at the International Center, and I taught using poetry as the text rather than a classic language book or the newspaper. The first poem I taught was "Fern Hill". My first students liked my class, and I discovered I loved teaching. Soon I was teaching poetry one night, Alice in Wonderland another night, pronunciation another night. It was a heady time, making friends, meeting the world while in New York City, sharing the literature and language and culture that I loved.
At the the International Center's location in 1985, we had to have classes in offices. We didn't have three beautiful classrooms and a stage as we have now. But we had wonderful staff, volunteers, and members. Eileen Julian had a desk in the room where we read Alice in Wonderland, and I still remember looking up and seeing her smile as I discussed the book. One of the members in my Alice class back in 1986 was someone many of you know: Anna Petelka.
In the years since then, I have changed (my hair had no grey when I started!), members have come and gone, and my life has been intertwined with the International Center in ways I could never have predicted in 1985.
But over the last decade and more, the International Center has degraded. Costs were too high, the leadership less creative, and the board less and less connected to the vision that created the Center in the first place. The Center began to offer fewer and fewer services, began to charge for more services and restrict services, and became increasingly expensive. What had once been a haven for struggling refugees and new immigrants became increasingly expensive. Wonderful, dedicated staff were fired. Space was rented out. Opportunities to act to generate positive change were ignored. When we should have moved, the lease was renewed, instead. Now the Board has decided to close the Center. It is classic! Mismanage and run. (For some, that is the American Way. But not for us!)
We will continue to meet. On April 21, we will meet at the Prêt á Manger on 23rd Street, just down from the International Center at 24 West 23rd Street. I have set up a Meetup group to arrange classes. Please take a look and join!
There is also a new Facebook page named "Friends of the New International Center".
With your help we can be reborn, and better. Wiser. New.
Please join us to begin a new era and help generations to come.