CIANA Board Member Spotlight: Interview with Emily Levitt


Board Member Emily Levitt. Photo courtesy of Emily Levitt.

Astoria, NY -CIANA Board Member Emily Levitt first got involved when she moved to Astoria -as a volunteer. She chats with CIANA Communications and Programs Manager Maria Eliades about how CIANA effectively helps immigrants navigate a new system, and on how being a board member allowed her to continue making an impact outside of work hours.

Maria Eliades: How did you first hear of CIANA?

Emily Levitt: I started as a volunteer. I looked on google to find a local community service initiative that I could help out during the day, because I was a student and didn’t have to be anywhere during the day. I also wanted to feel rooted to something in my neighborhood, and I always felt that volunteering is a great way to get that kind of connection.

My background is in teaching, so I was specifically looking for teaching-based work. I wanted to do something where I wouldn’t be just a pair of hands, but could use my specific skills to help.

I found a website that would hook you up with a volunteering opportunity if you entered certain preferences. It found CIANA for me based on my specifications about location and preferences for teaching.

ME: What made you decide to go from being a volunteer to a board member?

EL: I left Astoria a while back and hadn’t been able to work for CIANA ever since because of a new work schedule. A year or two after I had to leave, Emira asked me to join the board. It meant I could get back involved, and it would be something I could do outside of my work hours.

I was intrigued to join the board because I already knew how intimate the organization was from the volunteer perspective. As a volunteer I loved how every ounce of effort you put in had a direct impact; there’s nothing mediating your effort and its effects. For example, if you show up to teach a class, someone will be there. If you help out with some admin, that’s an hour that frees up Emira’s time so she can do something else. I always liked how impactful the work felt as a volunteer, and I hoped that it would feel the same as a board member.

ME: If you have developed an affinity for the cause of immigration, could you talk about how that happened and why you think it’s important to support new immigrants in New York with pro bono or low bono services?

EL: I think that the immigrants who use CIANA’s services come here to pick up knowledge about specific resources, but more broadly to pick up knowledge about how things work in New York City. Most, though certainly not all, non-immigrants depend on a network of friends and family to teach them where to go to resolve the issues that come up in their day-to-day lives. If you’ve had to leave your country and your network behind for one reason or another, you have to