Eighteen-year-old Karma — who recently emigrated from Nepal — wants to improve her public speaking skills and gain self-confidence. Egyptian-born Tasnim, 17, was excited to put together her first resume. The teens were taking part in the first workshop offered by New Women New Yorkers, a brand-new New York City nonprofit that aims to help female immigrants become more successful in college and at work.
“We’re trying not only to give them skills, which is very important obviously, but also to create a support community and safe space,” said the group’s founder, Arielle Kandel, 32. Kandel’s group’s first offering is a 13-week leadership and job-skills workshop, which started in February. A more-established nonprofit, Atlas: DIY, a Sunset Park, Brooklyn, center for undocumented teens, is hosting the classes in what Kandel calls a “pilot session.”
Kandel (pictured, left) is also making plans to host future workshops on topics ranging from art therapy to cooking, reading and early childhood education. After just a few weekly classes, Kandel said she already loves her first group of students.
“When we asked the students why they joined the program, one part was about really learning skills and becoming more knowledgeable in certain topics,” said Kandel.
“The other part, and this is what was really touching, they were saying also, ‘We don’t have many friends here. We don’t have the kind of support that we had back home.’ There was really this aspect of sharing and getting to know new people who came through the same type of experiences,” she said.
During a recent class, Kandel explained to the five young women in the workshop series that the social media sites they now use to share photos with friends can yield jobs. Fifteen percent of Americans found a job through social media in 2011, she told the girls. “You can decide what information you share, and with who,” Kandel said.
Kandel, an immigrant from France, finds inspiration in family history — her paternal grandparents emigrated to the Bronx from Poland and Germany in 1937. Her father was born in New York and later immigrated to Paris, where he met her mother. Before moving to the U.S. about a year and a half ago, Kandel worked with Nepali refugees in India and African asylum seekers in Israel.
When she first arrived in New York, Kandel simply looked for a job working with immigrants — but after many meetings and interviews, decided to start her own non-profit specifically focusing on women new to this country.
“It took me a long time to really decide what was needed and what I wanted to do,” she said. “A lot of discussions, a lot of brainstorming with many people. What was really important to me from the beginning was that we would be a cross-community organization. We really believe it’s important to bring women immigrants from different backgrounds together. It’s actually surprising how much, even if they come from very different countries, that you still have shared experiences.”
She brought on volunteers, formed a board last May and right now, is her company’s only full-time employee.