County studies need for center for immigrants


March 09, 1998|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

EVERY FOUR to five years, about 6,000 people immigrate to Anne Arundel County from foreign countries (according to the U.S. Census Bureau), and Bay Ridge resident Deacon Ritterbush wants to help ease their transition.

County Executive John G. Gary Jr. has hired her to assess the need for an immigration services center in the county.

"The people who come here don't come here to get on welfare. They want to start a new life and they see this as a chance to do that," said Ritterbush, an Anne Arundel native who returned to her childhood home in August after 20 years living in Hawaii, Tonga, Fiji and Samoa.

Ritterbush was director of development and cultural programs for the Immigrant Center in Honolulu. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology from American University in Washington, D.C., and a doctoral degree in international development from the University of Hawaii.

She said she noticed the need for a similar center in Anne Arundel County shortly after she returned.

Her insurance agent, who is from Argentina, told her that Spanish-speaking immigrants often ask him for help because they have difficulty finding housing or feel they were cheated while buying cars.

About the same time, she met Marisene Thompson, a Panamanian anthropologist married to an American and living in Anne Arundel County. Thompson had begun researching the problem, but was busy with a teaching job, "so she handed me the ball," said Ritterbush.

PTC She appealed to Gary, but he did not want to commit to an immigration services center without proof it was needed, said Lisa Ritter, Gary's spokeswoman. Instead, he gave Ritterbush $7,500 to do a study on the issue.

"We already knew immigrants into the county are being served by a number of agencies," said Ritter. "What we need to find out is if they are getting what they need."

Ritterbush has discovered that a number of public and private agencies offer services such as job training and English lessons, but many immigrants often do not know where to go for such services.

"It's clear to me we need one-stop shopping," she said.

She envisions a nonprofit center staffed at least partially by volunteers who would help immigrants with everything from language problems and job searches to acclimating to life in America.

For instance, Ritterbush recently met a 60-year-old Korean man, who told her what he wanted was "an American family to be friends with," to help him learn American customs.

Ritterbush is due to submit her assessment by April 1.

Teacher exchange

Key School teacher Francie Hale is in Toluca, Mexico, this semester teaching English.

She teaches Spanish and French at the Key School and will share her experiences with her students when she returns.

Doris Tovar, who teaches English classes in Toluca, will teach in Hale's place at the Key School as part of the Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program.

Football coach

Annapolis native Peter Alvanos, a 1983 graduate of Annapolis High School, was named head football coach at Swarthmore College last week.

Swarthmore is a liberal arts college near Philadelphia. Alvanos will be moving from Chicago, where he was defensive and special teams coordinator for the University of Chicago.

The move brings him closer to his parents, John and Celia Alvanos, who live in Annapolis.

Children's book

Ann Jensen, an Annapolis-based author, has published "Leonard Calvert and the Maryland Adventure," an illustrated children's book about the first Maryland colonists. Calvert became the first governor of the colony.

The book, published by Tidewater Publishers, is 96 pages and sells for $9.95.

Pub Date: 3/09/98

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