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New York state funds “community navigators” project for low-income immigrants

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock ,
New York state funds “community navigators” project for low-income immigrants

A recent Request for Applications (RFA) from the New York State Office for New Americans represents an innovative approach to improving low-income immigrants’ access to career pathways and other workforce and social services for which they are eligible.

The RFA proposes to use just over $1 million in Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) funds to support full-time Community Navigator staff positions at 14 organizations.  Grants of approximately $75,000 are expected to be made to each selected organization. Once awarded, the year-long grants may be renewed for up to two additional years, subject to the availability of funds.  

Per the RFA, the goal of the project is to “maximize the participation of low-income immigrant community members in New York State’s civic and economic life.” The project is not intended to directly provide services. Rather, each community navigator will function as a sort of air-traffic controller, overseeing a corps of volunteers in their local region who will help eligible immigrants to discover and access already-existing services. Navigators will also be responsible for a set of convening and coordinating activities meant to deepen local understanding of immigrant integration, particularly around workforce and economic issues.

Why the project was created

The New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) explains the rationale behind this project in the introduction to its RFA:

There is a chronic lack of accessible information about publicly available services and programs in low-income immigrant communities throughout New York State. Low-income New American communities in New York State often lack reliable information regarding workforce development opportunities and other opportunities open to all New Yorkers to fully participate in our State’s civic and economic life. Meanwhile, the complex relationship between immigrants and government has further left newcomers at a deficit for reliable, trusted information.

Taken together, this has left New York State’s new American population ignored for career pathways, vulnerable to financial frauds and at an access deficit for possible ladders of opportunities. Dedicated outreach and community welcoming efforts are needed to help low-income immigrants gain access to the same opportunities available to all others in the State and country. To address this need, the New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) is seeking local leadership to coordinate and conduct outreach to low-income immigrant communities, and to create a grassroots community navigators program to help low-income New Americans.

Who is eligible to apply

Organizations eligible to apply for these funds include Community Action Agencies and other nonprofits who meet the New York State definition of community-based organization (CBO).

Notably, this statewide initiative is not limited to New York City. Just three of the anticipated 14 grantees will be located in the city. The other 11 grantees will be spread out across the remainder of the state, including two dedicated to the upstate area known as “North Country.”

What activities are required under the project

Each grantee organization will be required to carry out a similar slate of activities. These activities will be led by the full-time staff member (“Community Navigator”) funded under the grant. They include:

  • Establishing and leading a monthly Immigrant Integration Roundtable in their local community
  • Conducting a survey of local immigrants regarding important economic and workforce issues facing immigrants in the region, and producing an accompanying research report
  • Collaborating with nonprofit and other partners to develop and implement 10 employment/workforce development workshops and other events each year
  • Developing and overseeing a program to recruit and train community members to become volunteer Community Navigators assisting low-income immigrants in accessing services and resources for which they are eligible
  • Creating curricula and providing bimonthly trainings for volunteer Community Navigators


Each grantee’s staff member will also be responsible for hosting Community Conversations about immigrant integration, leading quarterly tours to help local stakeholders learn more about immigrant integration issues, and coordinating the dissemination of relevant announcements to ethnic media outlets.

How success will be measured

Grant applicants are required to demonstrate that their funded work will address one or more of the CSBG National Performance Goals and Indicators. Most relevant from a workforce perspective is Goal 1: “Low-income people become more self-sufficient.”

Indicators collected for this goal include individuals who obtained or maintained a job; obtained wage or benefit increase; achieved “living wage” employment; obtained skills/competencies required for employment; completed Adult Basic Education or High School Equivalency and received a certificate or diploma; or completed a postsecondary education program and obtained certificate or diploma.

The broader context for this project

New York is one of a handful of states in recent years that have created Offices for New Americans. Such offices are intended to improve the integration of immigrant newcomers into the fabric of their communities, and often focus on economic and workforce-related issues.

Among the activities undertaken by the New York State ONA include the funding of 27 ONA Neighborhood-Based Opportunity Centers around the state, and of legal counsels that will provide legal technical assistance to ONA Opportunity Centers. The ONA also supports activities that are specifically workforce-focused, including a program to help immigrants with STEM backgrounds to find skill-appropriate jobs in the U.S.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, New York