ARPA Insight Stories: Confronting and Eliminating Barriers to Immigrant Success 

Confronting and Eliminating Barriers to Immigrant Success ARPA Insight Story Header.gif

Baltimore continues to see consistent growth in its Latino and immigrant communities. In 2016, immigrants comprised approximately ten percent (292,000) of Baltimore residents.1 From 2010 to 2019, foreign-born residents increased by 13.8 percent, while Latino populations grew by more than 40 percent.2 In 2019, immigrant-led households in the Baltimore Metro area had $9.3 billion in spending power and contributed 4.2 billion in combined federal, state, and local taxes.3 4  

ARPA Funding | Confronting and Eliminating Barriers to Immigrant Success 

During COVID, immigrant and refugee families had fewer resources to sustain themselves financially through the pandemic as many were ineligible for unemployment benefits and other federal aid such as the Payment Protection Plan and child tax credits—further exacerbating economic disparities within these communities. Even families that qualify struggle to navigate complicated program requirements, which are not often available in languages other than English. Public and private entities with bilingual capabilities could help residents with application forms and information, but these organizations are limited in reach due to funding. 

Mayor Brandon M. Scott announced the ARPA-funded Baltimore New American Access Coalition (BNAAC) to minimize the economic and social disparities immigrant and refugee families face.  

BNAAC, managed by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MIMA), establishes Benefits Navigators across four (4) community-based organizations (CBO) to help residents with limited English proficiency (LEP) navigate and access health and social resources based on immediate and long-term needs. Partner organizations—Catholic Charities Esperanza Center, CASA, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, and Southeast CDC—and technical assistance partners—Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) and Maryland Hunger Solutions—were selected based on target communities and geography to meet New Americans where they reside. MIMA will standardize immigrant and refugee case management across participating CBOs through these partnerships. Baltimore Civic Fund serves as the fiscal agent for BNAAC.   

Meet Victor Contreras | BNAAC | CASA 

Victor has been a Benefits Navigator Community Health Worker with CASA for four months. Currently, Victor manages 30 clients and believes the number will increase monthly as the program continues. Victor talks about his work as a benefits navigator to bridge a gap of mistrust and language to build a safe, supportive space for his clients. 

“My first client is a mother who recently received an eviction notice as she was behind on her bills. She came to CASA to get resources for rental assistance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. While my team and I gathered the information she needed to qualify for those programs, I continued working to help her apply for a childcare voucher to help her pay for daycare services for her young children,” Victor said. He also helped the mother of two connect to CASA’s legal team to help her stay in her home until she could begin paying rent. 

Ultimately, Victor considers himself more than a technical assistant. He is a language bridge and knowledge partner who connects families to resources they desperately need but did not know they qualified for.  

Meet Joy Scalabrin | BNAAC | MIMA 

As a Language Access Project Manager, Joy will assist other ARPA-funded partners in making programs and services more accessible to Baltimore communities with limited English proficiency.

"A large focus of my position is to more broadly support all different departments and agencies within City government to get up to speed with language access," Joy said. Her current efforts for MIMA are centered on collaborating with agencies to enhance access to language access resources, like telephonic interpretation and translation of documents.

Joy is also working on updating Baltimore’s language access training for City employees, including language access resources, like how to use Language Line—a telephonic interpretation service—and how to access translation services. Joy is working to incorporate more information on expanding services for immigrant and LEP community members beyond using an interpreter. 

Meet Nick Brooks | Luke Frey-Wedeen | Ryan Gitonga | Soccer Without Borders 

Soccer Without Borders (SWB) is an international organization with independently operated hubs in multiple cities. SWB’s mission is to use soccer as a vehicle for positive change, providing underserved youth with a toolkit to overcome obstacles to growth, inclusion, and personal success. One of the most significant issues SWB is fighting is the education gap, made worse by the pandemic. The Baltimore Hub of Soccer Without Borders uses ARPA funding to help students address the learning loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and advance academically. 

Ryan Gitonga is a senior program coordinator and communications director for SWB Baltimore. Ryan leads a program at a middle school in Northeast Baltimore that serves predominantly Swahili-speaking youth. “As someone who loved soccer in my youth, working here felt like the perfect combination of working with youth and connecting to immigrants, being an immigrant myself,” Ryan said. 

Luke Frey-Wedeen, a program coordinator, works with youth at Patterson Boys High School. The program he coordinates serves mostly Central American Spanish-speaking youth. “I always felt soccer was a powerful tool, connecting people, building bridges, and teaching people life lessons,” Luke said. 

“Kids already come to America with gaps in their education for various reasons, so we are already playing catch up. However, during the pandemic, they needed extra things such as computers and space to learn that might not be available because they are new to the area,” Luke stated.  

Nick Brooks serves as the program director for SWB Baltimore. He explained that ARPA has helped SWB maintain and expand its programs in Baltimore. During the first year of receiving ARPA funds, SWB works with over 130 participants, including 35 high school seniors, more than the program has ever had.  

“When we think about our K through 12 pipelines and how we support them, we don’t want just to ask, did you get into some colleges? Do you have a job? But more so, are you on the right career path? Are you connected to the right types of resources?” Nick continued, “It’s not just your soccer coach checking in. It’s your career counselor asking, do you have access to healthcare? We want our youth ready for the next steps in life. It’s never been more important for young folks to have that support, and with ARPA funding, we look forward to providing that support.” 

Continuing the Work of Confronting and Eliminating Barriers to Immigrant Success 

Additional ARPA-funded initiatives—International Rescue Committee and Baltimore City Community College Foundation—were announced by the Scott administration to support Baltimore City’s vibrant immigrant community.  

Related Stories