Astoria Local and First Generation American Henry Cornejo Gives Back to the Community with CIANA
Henry Cornejo at his CUNY graduation ceremony. Photo courtesy of Henry Cornejo.
Henry Cornejo was a key Outreach intern during the Spring 2019 semester, contributing to the success of CIANA’s Know Your Rights workshops to inform the local community of what to do if they see ICE, as well as many of its other efforts to reach immigrants and immigrant allies. The Astoria native is a first generation Peruvian-American himself and recently graduated from CUNY with a BA in Political Science and International Studies with minors in Portuguese and Public Policy. In July 2019, Cornejo will start his first job out of college as an analyst for the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) in the Fleet Office of Real Time Tracking Unit.
He chats with CIANA’s Director of Development and Communications, Maria Eliades, about unexpected experiences in interning at CIANA and how that’s helped him get his first job out of college.
Maria Eliades: Why don’t you tell us a bit about your work at CIANA?
Henry Cornejo: I was the Outreach Intern for CIANA from February 2019 to the end of May 2019. But I wasn’t only the outreach intern. Since there’s a very limited budget, we have to use the interns in any way, so I was also the development intern, social media intern.
I really learned how a non-profit works, especially a small non-profit and I got to see the inner workings, what it’s like working with different clients and trying to navigate what they want the organization can do for them. I learned a lot in the few months that I was at CIANA and I got to see many things that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise, like going to Albany. I never thought I would go twice and meet council members or state senators, so it was really a lot of fun.
ME: Could you talk more about your visits to Albany?
HC: So the first time I went to Albany I went with you and a couple of clients from the English course to support an education funding that the whole state and the city of New York need that was still held up by the federal government. We were there with Senator Jessica Ramos and Make the Road, and we tried to take photos and get as involved as we could while taking in the whole experience of being in Albany.
The second time I went with Nima Omar, CIANA's case management intern, and staff from CACF to promote different bills in the Invisible No More Campaign. We went to different state senators to see if they could support the bills. That was interesting as well, because both Nima and I had to have our own pitch ready, so when it was our turn to talk to the staff members or the actual state senators it was a fluid motion and made sense. At the end of the day, my group got a couple senators to support the bill and put their name on it, so that was fun.
ME: That’s super exciting. I’m sure that it was a really great trip up. I’m sorry I wasn’t there myself.
Given all of that, did you think that you would end up going to Albany and advocating for our clients coming into this position?
HC: Going to Albany…no. I didn’t think that would happen.
I knew that I would try to spread the word of CIANA in the work, but I wouldn’t have thought I’d go to Albany, see actual Congress people there, state senators, and work with CACF. It was definitely a great opportunity.
ME: What would you say is the importance of an outreach intern at a direct services organization like CIANA?
HC: I think it’s pretty important since CIANA itself is very small. It’s pretty amazing to see what would happen when the whole outreach team would put flyers around the neighborhood. I remember someone put a flyer in a laundromat and then someone saw it and became one of the clients who attended the English courses. Actually getting to see an outcome from the work you put in is really important. Any time you spread the word of CIANA helps bring in more funding, more connections, and more clients.
ME: Who would you recommend to do the sort of work you did for us?
HC: If you want to get experience and make sure the work that you do is going to be beneficial to the organization, not just for your resume, then this is for you, especially if you want to meet with the community itself, wants to know Astoria, or the part of Queens we’re in.
I’ve lived in Astoria my whole life, and there were certain parts of the neighborhood I didn’t go to beforehand. But in CIANA I had to go to different parts of Astoria and Queens, which I started to appreciate when I was speaking to different individuals for a Know Your Rights workshop, or if they wanted to attend a class at CIANA.
ME: That being said, how do you think CIANA has helped with your career goals and with getting this position that you’re taking on in a month?
HC: I knew I wanted more experience working with a community and working with the neighborhood of Astoria itself. Before this, I worked for a city agency in Jackson Heights, but I wanted to dive more into the issues going on in Astoria and with CIANA since it does direct services for immigrants. All of the different work that I had to do with CIANA added up, because if I wasn’t doing one thing, I was doing something else where I was learning how to organize an outreach tracker, how to speak on the phone professionally, making sure all the pitches were correct, or doing public speaking for a workshop. This is all experience that really helped me get to the position that I’m going to start next month.