Nurturing A Safe Space for Authentic Stories
New Women New Yorkers (NWNY)’s Immigrant Women Writing Series teaches newcomers how to write memoir pieces, fosters mutual support, and provides agency to those who are starting new lives in America.
Arielle Kandel, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of New Women New Yorkers (NWNY), shares how the organization’s workforce development programs—by integrating the art of self-expression and storytelling—goes beyond supporting immigrant women’s job search journey. Read our full interview below.
New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA): Last December, New Women New Yorkers (NWNY) celebrated the first edition of “Writing the Self” storytelling program, which was partly supported by the Creative Learning Grant funded by the New York State Council on the Arts and administered by LMCC. Tell us about the program.
Arielle Kandel (AK): “Writing the Self” is a writing workshop series for immigrant women and the latest storytelling initiative which focuses on writing memoir pieces, building communication skills, and importantly, fostering the joy of writing.
At NWNY, we value building a safe, inclusive space where immigrant women can share their stories, find common ground, and build mutually supporting communities. Many NWNY programs focus on workforce development which supports our participants to find quality and meaningful employment. We believe that it’s important to integrate and explore the art of self-expression in our programs, and this was the context of the “Writing the Self” program.
With that context, we have three goals in mind. The first is to create a safe space for our participants to share and then craft stories, whether it be about immigrant experience or beyond. Through drafting and discussion, we develop memoir pieces throughout the program, get better at telling our stories, and regain confidence in the power of our experiences even as we’re adjusting to our newly adopted home.
The second goal is to help our participants build writing and communication skills which are essential for job searching and, again, regain confidence in ourselves through the process. Last but not least, we want to share the stories beyond our own communities, with people who are not exposed to our perspectives, and contribute authentic discourse about immigrant women.
In the fall of 2022, 13 women participants joined the pilot program facilitated by Serbian-Australian writer and storyteller Sofija Stefanovic. The program culminated with a public event and celebration in December that featured writings from the program, and a panel of immigrant women writers talking about their lived experience and writing.
NYFA: Integrating arts and storytelling elements in workforce development programs is NWNY’s strength and what makes your program unique. What made you take this approach, as someone who leads a non-profit focusing on providing direct services?
AK: I was born and raised in France with the Holocaust experience being part of my father’s side of family history. From my mother’s side, I received great oral tradition. Stories were an essential part of my childhood.
Personally, writing has always been important to me. Although my academic training was in law, I have never stopped writing since I was young and the arts help me process my experience.
As an immigrant who came to the U.S. as an adult, I went through the process of starting a new life in a new country and faced many challenges, including rejections during my job search—one of the reasons I founded NWNY.
The arts and storytelling elements come into our programs naturally. It has been an essential part of our programming and it evolves with time. We started with self-publishing stories on our blog and partnered with The Moth for an oral storytelling program, then developed and exhibited our “Real People, Real Life” project. Now we’ve recently kicked off this new “Writing the Self” program.
To me, writing and telling stories is both about empowerment and discovering joy.
NYFA: What are some resources and opportunities NWNY provides for immigrants creators/artists to be part of a community? Other than “Writing the Self,” do you collaborate with artists and creators on any of your programs and services?
AK: Other than the storytelling elements in our program, I want to highlight that there are many creators and artists who join NWNY’s free workforce development program, “LEAD,” which supports immigrant women securing quality and meaningful employment in the field of their interest. Many artists in the program were able to connect and partner with organizations and professionals from various industries and fields including arts, entertainment, and fashion.
We have different LEAD cycles coming up throughout the year. We also offer “We Speak We LEAD” and “Bridge to LEAD,” which are workforce development programs for participants with different English language proficiencies. Check our website and join the info session to see if these are the opportunities you are looking for!
NWNY also collaborates with artists and creators through public events—typically two each year and storytelling is at the forefront of the events. Some examples include our partnership with NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs last June for Sunset on the Roof during Immigrant Heritage Month, an event that celebrated our We Speak We LEAD 2022 cohort. We invited immigrant hip-hop artist Audry Funk, one of the first women in Puebla, Mexico to rap.
In December, we collaborated with immigrant writers and comedians originally from Brazil, Dominican Republic, Germany, Philippines, Poland, and Singapore for our “Melting Pot Afternoon,” along with a showcase of the memoir pieces by “Writing the Self” participants. The artists inspired both our program participants and our audiences.
If you would like to get involved or learn more about LEAD, We Speak We LEAD, and Bridge to LEAD job readiness training, please contact Kibel at [email protected].
Learn more about the immigrant women who are part of NWNY’s community by listening to the Real People. Real Lives. Podcast, watching the Storytelling Short Movie, and visiting the NWNY Blog.
About New Women New Yorkers:
Since 2015, New Women New Yorkers (NWNY) has empowered hundreds of immigrant women in New York City to reach their fullest professional potential. Through life-changing workforce development, community, and storytelling programs, NWNY helps its community of strong immigrant women secure meaningful employment or pursue higher education, in addition to providing a safe and inclusive space for them to build community and share their stories.
To date, NWNY’s workforce development programs have offered nearly 60 job readiness workshops series to over 700 participants, along with more than 80 practice and networking sessions with partner companies, and 800+ individual support sessions. In 2022 alone, NWNY programs served over 200 new participants, along with more than 450 empowered alumnae and an additional 1,000+ community members.
Learn more about NWNY’s workforce development, community, and storytelling programs in English and Spanish.
–Ya Yun Teng, Program Officer, Immigrant Artist Resource Center (NYC)
This post is part of the ConEdison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter #156. Subscribe to this free monthly e-mail for artist’s features, opportunities, and events. Learn more about NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program.