I was approached by the folks of CIANA, which stands for the Center for the Integration and Advancement of New Americans, almost a month ago, because they were looking for help to get the word out for their recently launched “Learning for Life” fundraiser to expand its overly popular and successful Elementary After School Tutoring program.

A little history on CIANA: The Non-Profit company was founded in 2006 by Emira Habiby Browne as a model of immigrant integration that begins immediately upon entry into the country. CIANA helps immigrants and their families successfully integrate into American society while maintaining pride in their cultural heritage through a variety of free programs and services.

What piqued my interest immediately about CIANA, was its founder. Emira is Palestinian-American who was born and raised in the Middle East, speaks Arabic fluently, has traveled extensively, and lived in several countries in Europe and the Middle East. I thought it was pretty cool and fitting that Emirah’s background story looked a lot like the current stories of the people she set out to help and service in Queens today.

Yesterday, while I couldn’t meet up with Emira, I was finally able to find some time to come to the CIANA facility, conveniently located in the heart of Astoria. My timing was key as I was able to speak with Maria Eliades, Volunteer Communications & Media Relations Officer, Kylen Button, Program & Administrative Manager, AND even catch some of the kids and parents for their annual End of the Year party for their Elementary After School program. The same program that CIANA is looking to expand with its “Learning for Life” fundraiser.

Pictured above is Mohammed, his family is from Bangladesh and he has been coming to CIANA’s Elementary After School program since early 2017. What struck me about Mohammed was that although he seemed wise beyond his years and was very mature in his demeanor, he was just a little boy, a little boy who clearly felt comfortable and safe in the sanctuary of this place.

With its dedicated staff, volunteers, and interns which speak over 20 languages, it’s easy to see why kids like Mohammed would feel right at home at CIANA.

Facing reduced federal, state, and city funding, CIANA’S Elementary After School Tutoring program needs help though. Currently the program is at capacity, serving twenty students from every borough in New York City, but many more students are waiting to claim their place in the program. With its “Learning for Life” fundraiser, CIANA hopes to raise $10,000 by June 27, 2018 to hire a Program Coordinator, offer more days for tutoring, and accept more children into the program.

If you are interested in learning more about CIANA go to If you want to donate to CIANA go to

Photo and words by Adolfo Steve Vazquez