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Immigrant advocates seek to better serve St. Louis' newest residents

Stakeholders attend a New American Alliance community meeting to discuss ways to better serve and connect with new immigrants to St. Louis.
Jacquelyn Ballard | New American Alliance
Stakeholders attend a New American Alliance community meeting to discuss ways to better serve and connect with new immigrants to St. Louis.

Recent immigrants to St. Louis have a new resource they can tap when adjusting to life in the United States.

The New American Alliance is a referral system for immigrants and refugees that started to take shape this past summer.

For example, if a recent refugee needs help finding a job, access to healthcare, or an affordable place to live, the Alliance reviews their situation and connects them to an organization that can help.

“There are many organizations that may be well known for serving one specific group of newcomers, but are open to serving all groups of immigrants and refugees,” said Jacquelyn Ballard, the alliance’s information and referral coordinator. "We’re here to make that connection,"

The collaborative was founded by five non-profits — all recognized as heavy hitters among St. Louis organizations serving immigrants and refugees: the International Institute, the Mosaic Project, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Casa de Salud and the Asian American Chamber of Commerce.

Most referrals are handled over the phone, but the beginnings of a welcome center are taking shape in the lobby of the International Institute.

While the alliance’s founding organizations cover many services that a new immigrant to the area might need, they often refer clients to services outside of the core network.

Making the resources available in one place is among the many reasons the collaborative was started, said Jorge Riopedre, a founding member of the alliance. He compared the immigrant advocacy community to St. Louis’ many municipalities — sometimes operating in silos.

“There is a lot of distrust between organizations, either because they’re not sure exactly what you do and what you’re about — or in some cases because there is competition for funding,” said Riopedre, also the president of community health organization Casa de Salud. “I would argue that with the political winds that are blowing, we have to be each other’s allies, because if we are not, who will be?”

The New American Alliance isn’t the only attempt to harmonize local resources for the foreign born. Since the summer of 2015, the Immigrant Service Provider Network, like its name suggests, has been convening monthly meetings for representatives from over 50 organizations that serve immigrants.

“Clearly there’s a need for a space for providers to come together, share resources, network and support one another,” said Nancy Spargo, the network's executive chair. “By starting the Immigrant Service Provider Network, my personal goal, and the goal of many others at the table is to make sure this is a sustainable and collaborative effort.”

Operated through Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates, the network is focused on service providers. In contrast, the alliance is largely dedicated to how immigrants access services. But many of their goals are the same. Many of the founding organizations of the New American Alliance already are participating in the provider network.

Leaders of the two efforts will meet in March to discuss their respective missions and potential for collaboration.

“I firmly believe in enhancing each other's efforts,” Spargo said. “For me it really is about building bridges, it really is about forging relationships and creating alliances — because when we’re polarized, everybody loses.”

Follow Jenny on Twitter @jnnsmn