CIANA donor, Glen Schleyer, in Athens Square. Photo: Maria Eliades
Former CIANA Board Member and volunteer Glen Schleyer still stays involved in the CIANA family as one of its most dedicated donors. Maria Eliades, CIANA’s Communications and Programs Manager, finds out why Schleyer was inspired to join CIANA in helping immigrants in New York City, and why the lawyer continues to remain passionate about CIANA’s cause.
Maria Eliades: How long have you been involved with CIANA?
Glen Schleyer: Shortly after the 2016 election, after a period of despondency, of feeling that supporting candidates did not result in the outcome that I wanted, I thought that it would be much more fulfilling to focus locally. I’m so appreciative to have raised my children in Queens and to have benefited from the diversity, and to have children for whom it’s the norm that everyone is different and celebrates different holidays, and with grandparents that speak different languages. That’s really fantastic.
I realized that I wanted to help do what I could to contribute to that. So for two years I was a board member and a secretary of the board. It was a young, really enthusiastic board, and Emira, the founder and executive director, has tremendous energy and passion. The staff and volunteers, and obviously the clients, children and the parents, are great to be around. For a while, I also volunteered and taught the immigration exam through the civics class, which teaches US history, the Constitution, and structure of government to new immigrants. It’s so inspiring to see people coming to the country like my grandparents did. They’re so excited to learn about the values and the history and the structure.
Now that I’m off the board and no longer volunteering, I’m still supporting it financially because having been on the board and involved you see how much can be done with a relatively small amount of funds. You can really change people’s lives. So I’ve definitely encouraged family members to support.
I’ve also really taken away some great friendship of people in the community, and obviously, I’m still in Queens. It couldn’t be a more important thing at this time to support immigrants.
ME: When and how did your family come to the US?
GS: My mother’s parents came over from Ireland in the early 1900’s, when they were young. They met here, actually. My grandmother came over with her family through Ellis island as a teenager. My grandfather was a character, orphaned in Ireland, going from farm to farm since he was 10 years old doing jobs and he somehow got a boat over to Canada and came in through there. He ended up meeting my grandmother and worked for the city parks his whole career. So, same story, no education, his children all went to high school, my parents all went to college, what he would have hoped and what people kind of envision.
My father’s grandparents came over from Germany. My wife, her family comes from Ireland, so our kids are 75% Irish. Since my grandparents had the Irish brogue and talked about the homeland, I definitely had a sense of the immigrant experience. I was very close with them growing up. I would spend my summers with them and definitely had the sense of them as the were integrating into the country and becoming a part of the community. They’re typical Americans.
ME: Given that background, how does that make you feel about what’s currently happening to immigrants?
GS: It’s really disheartening, I think that fundamentally, I’m optimistic because I think a lot of people are realizing the values that we have. I certainly do, because you think as Americans we share certain values and they’re just so fundamental that they’re taken for granted, but I think what I realize is that those values don’t perpetuate themselves and that’s why I did this. Because I can’t just sit here and complain that the things I consider patriotic are not as pervasive as I thought they were. I can take steps to change that and that was really important to me.
I'm hopeful that people are going to realize that these are things you have to fight for or else they’ll go away. And I’m very helpful that we are about to see a greatest generation because that is the challenge ahead of us. At this point, I’m an old person, but certainly I’ll do what I can in supporting the people who are leading the way.
ME: How do you feel that CIANA is helping with all of that?
GS: I think that a lot of the focus on immigration is on the unusual case: programs for refugees, people fleeing, the caravan, and people seeking asylum. There’s a lot of resources for that, but what I wanted to focus on are the people that are easy to miss. Just the everyday difficulty of going to a new country, new culture, language, and expectations and just day-to-day things that can seem like a very big obstacle.
ME: Why should someone else donate to CIANA?
GS: I find it’s especially rewarding to support a smaller organization because it’s not just putting money in the bank for a rainy day or future headquarters, but I know from working with CIANA that the need is there, that the passion and volunteers are there, but the constraint is the funding. So I know that whatever I contribute is absolutely going to make a difference because it’s so volunteer based. It’s really just the basic operating costs to put people face-to-face helping each other with actual practical problems. In that case, a relatively small donation will absolutely make a difference in whether you can expand to a new area. Having been here, I just see what a difference it makes and how much a donation really goes a long way in making a difference for people that I know and love.