CIANA Staff Spotlight: Olivia Sztanga

Olivia Sztanga, CIANA's New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Coordinator got involved with CIANA because of her passion for immigrant rights. Photo: Maria Eliades

Astoria, NY -Like much of CIANA’s staff and interns, Olivia Sztanga has an immigrant background. Olivia is the child of Polish immigrants, and she speaks Polish and Arabic. As CIANA’s New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Coordinator, she has been managing and hiring volunteers and interns, as well as conducting client outreach since September, but she originally began at CIANA as a legal intern in June 2018. She chats with Maria Eliades, CIANA’s Communications and Programs Manager, about CIANA’s impact and her own immigrant story.

Maria Eliades: What inspired you to start working/volunteering at CIANA?

Olivia Sztanga: For the past two years, I’ve been working in immigration focused research; so more like the academic side of immigration issues. However, the professor I worked under had a meeting with the executive director of CIANA, and she recommended that I reach out and see if you guys needed help. And you had a legal intern posting.

I had worked as a legal assistant previously and my parents are immigrants. I’ve been very dedicated to immigrant rights for the past few years and it was just a perfect match.

ME: What do you like most about CIANA?

OS: Truly, our clients. We’ve had so many great interactions with clients, where they’ve expressed how grateful they are for different programs. Every time, it surprises and pleases me. I also assist with our tutoring program on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those kids are a pleasure. They truly brighten my day on those days.

ME: Do you have any favorite memories of working here so far?

OS: Our employee get-togethers are really great. We’re a community based organization but I feel like everyone that works here is also like a family and we’re very close. It creates a good environment.

ME: What impact do you think you’ve had on the clients that you’ve worked with?

OS: This summer there was one client who was applying for DACA renewal. And we found out that he was eligible for need-based grant to pay for his application fee and that was $500. I personally helped him and his mom apply to that grant. And they got it, they didn’t have to pay for the fee so it made me happy that I could do that and help them in that way.

Also, I’m finally starting to get our programs more situated. For example, I recruited ten new volunteers to help with our afterschool program. We started the year off with not that many tutors, and it was really difficult to support our students. So I think the biggest impact I’ve had is increasing the personnel that we have manning that program. Most days when we started, we’d have about four tutors for 20 kids. That’s like a 5:1 ratio but now we have at least 8 or 9 people coming in. So the ratio now is 2:1, which is much better

Olivia's cat, Cole, also known as Kolczyk. Photo: Olivia Sztanga

ME: What are you thankful for?

OS: I like my cat, a lot. He’s a beautiful cat, I love him. I’m thankful for my friends, and my family, and my CIANA family that’s really welcomed me and been a great support.

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