The International Center of the Capital Region (ICCR), a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, has a 50-year history of welcoming and assisting international newcomers throughout New York’s Capital Region. Through the years, the International Center has experienced major shifts in its community functions.
Begun in the 1950s as an informal dinner club providing hospitality and friendship to international visitors in the Capital Region, the Center’s objective gradually transitioned during the 1960s into becoming a direct service provider for immigrants and refugees.
From 1956 to 2005, the International Center offered essential services to international newcomers to the area. Today, the vision and mission of the Center has shifted and focuses on increasing global-local citizen diplomacy, intensify regional multicultural outreach, and deepening foreign affairs education and dialogue.
The International Center of the Capital Region, Inc. owes its founding to the experiences and efforts of John and Ruth Blackburn. The Blackburns traveled to Denmark in the late 1950s under the auspices of a program called, “Meet the Danes at Home.” Upon their return to the United States, they decided to establish a similar program for newly arrived immigrants from Europe.
In 1965, the Albany Rotary Club founded the Albany International Center in the building adjacent to the Blackburn’s’ townhouse in downtown Albany. By the late 1960s, the Center had joined the Council on International Visitors (CIV) network. Visitors were able to stay at the Center, the city’s first bed and breakfast. Active volunteers and host families ensured that there were significant hospitality and sight-seeing opportunities.
In 1971, the Center expanded its services to meet the needs of foreign students coming to the 10 colleges in the Capital Region. Sight-seeing trips and home stays helped students learn about life outside the U.S. academic environment.
With the U.S, withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975, the Center entered yet another phase and focused on services to refugees. The ethnic diversity of the region began to change rapidly in the 1980s and the Center expanded its services to include legal representation for immigrants and direct services to all of the foreign-born population living or visiting in the Greater Capital District. The Center’s name and bylaws were changed to reflect the expanded service area and mission.
Over the decades, dedicated staff provided refugee and asylee resettlement services, immigration counseling, cultural adjustment services, vocational English as a Second Language training, job placement, citizenship support and translation services.
The Center served an average of 1,000 immigrants and refugees per year, from as many as 100 countries. The International Center assisted local businesses in hiring qualified and dedicated international newcomers as employees, and promoted public awareness of the many international community contributions to the Capital Region.
The Center was unique in its primary focus on services to immigrants with limited financial resources, often struggling with adjustment to a new language and culture. The Center was also the region’s major non-faith-based provider of such services.
In recent years, diverse internal and external factors led to another transition for the International Center of the Capital Region. Shifts in national priorities, international demographics, and federal refugee and immigration policies following the events of September 11, 2001 sharply reduced the number of refugees to the United States. This, in turn, dramatically reduced the Center’s main federal funding – cutting operational resources by about 90%. The Center also was set back by the loss of its much admired director, Helene Smith, who passed away in 2003 after a long illness.
In an effort to avoid suspending services, International Center’s board and staff had explored numerous options to ensure future viability; and, with the Council of Community Services’ assistance, engaged in extensive discussions with other community service providers to develop strategic alliances.
The International Center’s board reluctantly took action to end the provision of direct program services to international newcomers at the end of April 2005. Fortunately, the Board successfully arranged for the continuous provision of services to refugees and immigrants by transitioning direct services to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, operating out of the Center’s former offices.
Since June of 2005, the International Center’s programs have shifted focus to outreach, educational, and advocacy activities. The Center serves its local and global communities by hosting international visitors to the region (as the region’s officially designated member of the National Council for International Visitors – NCIV), convening educational exchanges and symposia, fostering dialogue on the contributions, opportunities and challenges presented by the global economy, and advocating for greater appreciation and understanding of the international community in the greater Capital Region.