Service center

Nationalities Service Center relocates Afghan evacuees to Philadelphia while marking its 100th anniversary

In its 100-year history, the Nationalities Service Center has perhaps never been busier than it is today.

It has pledged to resettle 500 Afghans in Philadelphia, about a third of the state’s commitment — 275 of whom live at the Marriott Residence Inn in Center City, where the agency has transformed part of the second floor into a sort from American Orientation U.

English lessons in the morning, employment preparation in the afternoon, then two housing information sessions, one in Dari, the other in Pashto. In between, the agency organizes road trips for people to visit apartments and schools in the Northeast, South Philadelphia, King of Prussia and the Main Line.

“Like the people we serve, we are resilient,” said NSC Chief Executive Margaret O’Sullivan.

At the turn of the century, the immigrant aid agency looks back and forward.

The NSC will open a branch next year in what is quickly becoming one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods, Northeast Philadelphia, to meet immigrants where they live.

The Northeast has become home to newcomers from China, Brazil, Portugal, Russia and the Dominican Republic. It is also the center of the city’s growing Afghan community of 700, concentrated in the Mayfair and Oxford Circle areas.

The NSC adopted a new motto, “We Stand With Immigrants”, and a new woven-style logo, to symbolize immigrants and their new communities coming together as one. The agency also launched a centennial fundraising campaign.

“This is a special year we’re entering,” said new board chairman Brian Kim, who is a principal at NewSpring Capital, a Radnor investment firm. “It’s a combination of reflecting on the past, evaluating the present and positioning the organization for the future.”

The NSC was founded as the International Institute of Philadelphia, as part of an early 20th-century movement that established “international institutes” in 55 cities. He worked to help immigrant women obtain citizenship and learn English, and provided both recreation and assistance in finding employment and housing.

As millions of people were displaced during World War II, the institute expanded its work to include legal services and began helping not only women, but their families as well. It changed its name in 1964. And in the 1970s, it worked to resettle Southeast Asian families within the diaspora following the end of the Vietnam War.

Today, NSC serves approximately 5,000 immigrants and refugees a year from more than 100 countries, including Bhutan, Iraq, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They speak about 75 languages.

The goal is to help newcomers establish a strong, sustainable and dignified future by providing them with comprehensive services. This includes legal help, language classes, health care, employment help and general orientation when transitioning to a new country.

Located near 12th and Arch Streets in Philadelphia, NSC received and spent about $6 million in 2019, according to its latest public tax filing. Most of its income comes from membership fees and grants.

Customers are served regardless of their legal status or ability to pay.

This includes Afghans evacuated to the United States during the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Some 50,000 live on eight US military bases, including 11,100 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in South Jersey, awaiting permanent settlement in communities across the country.

The Biden administration wants to get people off the bases as soon as possible, but finding affordable housing has been a challenge. Hotels appeared as a palliative.

Ghulam Sakhi Danish walked the halls of the Marriott on Monday holding her 2-month-old daughter, Eliana – born at Camp Atterbury in Indiana – while his wife, Najia Haidari, took part in a job skills class.

“They’ve been really great – giving us all the information we need,” Danish said of NSC. “We really hope for a bright future.”

NSC Deputy Director Steven Larín, who originally joined the agency as an immigration lawyer, said the agency’s work is having a lasting impact. Helping a family stay and live in the United States not only changes their future, but also that of all future generations.

“Let’s see what we can do next,” said Nan Feyler, board chair and former executive director of the NSC. “It’s a chance to look to the future, to help people really thrive, to be partners with people who come to this country hoping to rebuild their lives.”

Today, approximately 230,000 Philadelphians were born overseas. More than a quarter of the city’s residents are immigrants or have a foreign-born parent.

Without the NSC, former city attorney Sozi Pedro Tulante said, he wouldn’t be in Philadelphia.

It was the NSC who resettled his family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1983. Tulante was 8 years old, the eldest of three siblings, his mother nine months pregnant, his father newly released from detention as a prisoner Politics.

Having been granted asylum in the United States, the family traveled 11,000 kilometers from Kinshasa to a city they did not know.

“Someone from the NSC met us at the airport, at JFK, drove us across the Ben Franklin Bridge,” Tulante said. “The feeling of kindness and comfort he gave to a stranger has always shaped my view of America in some way. The first American I ever met.

As an adult, Tulante, a lawyer at Dechert LLP and a former NSC board member, retained what he calls an immigrant’s “indescribable mix of wonder, worry and anticipation.” .

Now, he noted, Afghans face the same challenge — at the end of a tumultuous four-year turning point when the Trump administration cut refugee admissions to historic lows.

The number of Afghans to be resettled in Philadelphia increased, with Bethany Christian Services resettling 65, Catholic Social Services 75, HIAS Pennsylvania 100 and NSC 500, bringing the city’s total to 740.

“This is our moment,” O’Sullivan said. “Now is the time for us as an organization to stand up – an opportunity to show what our organization can do.”