Cabrini Immigrant Services of NYC and Justice for Immigrants empower leaders in the community

Every other Monday evening, high school students, college students and adults from all over the world convene in a bustling Chinatown neighborhood of southern Manhattan to participate in a leadership program hosted by Cabrini Immigrant Services of NYC, or CIS-NYC. CIS-NYC runs a local section of the Justice for Immigrants, or JFI, campaign, a program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The JFI program and CIS-NYC seek to empower community members through “know your rights” training and other informational sessions that focus on participants’ experiences, knowledge and skill sets. They also encourage and guide community members to get involved in direct advocacy work. Ella Nimmo, CIS-NYC’s Director of Community Programs & Development, describes the program’s goal as,  “providing the community with a space where they can gain vital information, advocate for themselves and their community and be part of the work to change policies that effect and marginalize them.” 

The program has always actively solicited input from community members on presentations and workshops, in addition to advocacy priorities and actions. Much of the input came from the program’s steering committee, which met regularly and was composed of immigrant members of the community. Since the committee’s beginning, CIS-NYC staff have continued to encourage its members to assume leadership roles and to continue shaping program’s direction. However, through their regular meetings, it became apparent that many in the team felt they did not have the right skill set and knowledge base to manage the program. In response, CIS-NYC transformed the steering committee into a leadership program to help members develop the skills to be effective agents of change in their community. The leadership program offers educational sessions on community organizing 101, which provides an overview of power structures and how to enact systemic change through organizing. Other topics included how U.S. government works, how bills become laws, the history of immigration, effective storytelling and how to use social media.

Carlos, a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and an awardee of CIS-NYC’s Angel Fund Scholarship, has been an active member of the leadership program over the last three months. “I have learned about being a leader in my community. This program has inspired me to become more active in the immigrant community and to realize that my voice is important. Cabrini has taught me that many voices can lead to big changes,” he said.

Carlos works in the program with his mother and sister and is invested in the Greenlight Campaign, which would allow everyone in New York to have a driver’s license, regardless of immigration status. Carlos has previously participated in the Abolish ICE campaign and continues to advocate for DACA and the Dream Act.   

The main CIS-NYC and JFI program legacy is the way it has empowered its participants. “People are very aware of what their rights are and feel more empowered to express rights and advocate for themselves, in many cases regardless, of their status,” said Ms. Nimmo.  At the end of the leadership program, CIS-NYC will restart the steering committee with participants leaping into action through upcoming trips to Albany for an opportunity to speak with elected officials. Participants will also begin to lead “know your rights” workshops and conduct outreach within the community.

CLINIC applauds CIS-NYC and its efforts to build an inclusive community. Email us at to tell us how your community is promoting integration!