NicerFL, an educational non-profit that provides free tutoring, mentoring, and educational resources to new immigrants in Sarasota county and other SW Florida communities, gathered 64 Ukrainian and Russian-speaking men, women, and children for a meet and greet event at the North Port Library on April 30. The event was announced as an English Conversation Club and is the start of a recurring meeting of immigrants with local volunteers to practice their English conversation skills and receive information and answers to the current issues they face. The event room was bustling with energy and expectations from the newcomers who came on this Saturday morning to learn about English and citizenship classes, community services, get help for immigration issues, or ask about jobs and talk to others in the same situation. Many newly arrived refugees live in tiny spaces with people they know, and one family said they lived in someone’s garage. The newcomers who are here on humanitarian parole shared they were still waiting for their work permit, and it was difficult to live without a job.

The North Port library had probably never seen so many immigrants in one place, and Dr.Maya Lane and Liliya Soyfer from NicerFL, who had spent months reaching out to the new immigrants in the area, were also surprised by the large number of people who came to the first meeting. Families with babies, little kids, young and old, all were expecting to get some help. Some of the immigrants are newly arrived, some have already been in the US for several months, and some had lived here for several years. Many heartfelt stories were shared in the conversations of newcomers with the volunteers. Two volunteers from the community, Bruce and Sabah, sat with groups of immigrants and started a discussion in English with the goal to help them practice their conversation skills. Meanwhile, Dr. Lane and Ms. Soyfer, the Executive director of NicerFL-SW Florida Newcomer Immigrant Educational Center and the Community Outreach Director, walked around to ask about each immigrant’s needs and write them down. People shared their stories with an open heart and it was evident that they were eager to be heard and helped.

NicerFL is working to recruit more volunteers and mentors in order to provide newcomers with much needed help. The task is overwhelming, and the non-profit will continue to seek partnerships with the local city and county organizations to raise awareness of the urgent needs of the newcomers. NicerFL provides mentoring from community partners who help answer some of their questions and will look for more mentors in the shared communities. The center also offers online tutoring in English for adults and academic tutoring for immigrant school students, and will start a regular English Conversation Club in North Port on Saturdays, so people can continue to meet with local residents to practice English but also meet with mentors and receive information. Another program NicerFL will offer in local libraries is the Mom and Kids Program, where parents and immigrant kids can be tutored in the same room for 2 hours and join in the end for a shared activity. NicerFL plans to speak at city councils and other events to raise awareness with the local organisations and city government and will invite speakers to talk to newcomers about services and opportunities available to them.