Category: Archive

Robinson takes over at EIIC

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

As one of a family of nine, Brooklyn native Regina Robinson knows plenty about sharing and sacrifice. This, coupled with her knowledge and appreciation of her family’s immigrant past, has given her a special sensitivity to the trials and tribulations of immigrants, not least, of course, the Irish. It’s an attribute that will serve her well in her new job as executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center.

Robinson is particularly alert for anti-immigrant sentiment, or, as she politely describes it, the idea among some people that immigrants "are not positive to the community." As for the EIIC itself, the new executive director is eager to ensure its offices are places in which immigrants not only receive help but also enjoy visiting.

"It’s important for us here at the center that we keep an outlook of being a helping hand and a welcoming place for people to come to," she said.

"As an Irish American, I realize how much the Irish contributed to this country. A lot of things that we say are American, a lot of those things were Irish that were made American," she said, referring in particular to Catholic schools and hospitals. "You can get very romantic about it," she added, "but it’s true. We all come from someplace else."

Apart from helping immigrants, one of Robinson’s priorities for the EIIC is building more contacts with the wider community, and particularly with those the EIIC has helped. The center already does this through its computer-training and job-placement programs, for example, but Robinson hopes to eventually have more programs to offer. Already she is working on a project dealing with health-insurance issues for immigrants. It involves producing an information booklet and, perhaps, seminars.

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"We also welcome volunteers," Robinson added, as well as "any suggestions that the community has for services and programs, both in Woodlawn and in Woodside."

Robinson herself had been a volunteer with the EIIC since 1993 while she worked with Fleet Financial Group. "I helped out with the education and career seminars, and I’m also a member of the board," she said.

On the wall behind Robinson’s desk in her Woodside office is the by now well-known sign "Legalize the Irish." To many, such a sentiment might seem outdated given the number of visa programs that have been available during the last decade. Despite that, however, many of those who visit the EIIC are Irish illegals. "At a minimum, 70 percent of our clients looking for work are undocumented," Robinson said. "The age range is about 18 to 25."

As to why there should be such continuous emigration from a booming economy like Ireland’s, Robinson agreed that the Celtic Tiger had benefited many but, she said, "depending on one’s skills levels, some may want to take the trip over here."

Robinson’s own skills in communications and management will certainly come in useful in her new job. During her time in Mercy High School in River Head, L.I., she was a stringer for two local newspapers and earned a journalism scholarship to Marquette University in Wisconsin.

After working for a time in Marquette’s financial aid office, she returned to New York, graduating from Columbia University with a master’s degree in student and personnel administration. After working with Fleet Financial Group, she moved to PACE University as director for student financial assistance. Before joining the EIIC, she was director of communication and alumni relations at Regis High School in Manhattan.

Coming from immigrant families who trace their roots to Cork, Longford and Roscommon, her appointment as head of an organization helping today’s immigrants is one she’s embarking on with obvious enthusiasm.

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