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October 11. 2013 9:52PM

Manchester refugee agency moves from downtown

MANCHESTER — The International Institute of New England last month moved its refugee resettlement agency out of its long-time downtown office at 315 Pine St. to new quarters on north Elm Street.

"We moved because our space was no longer working for us and we needed new space and this particular landlord came forward and...offered us this great opportunity," International Institute of New England president and chief executive officer Carolyn Benedict-Drew said Friday. The Institute also has offices in Boston and Lowell, Mass.

The institute rents the 1850 Elm St. space from Ben Gamache, Benedict-Drew said. The new office has about the same square footage as its prior Pine Street site, she said. It moved about a month ago, she said.

She said the new site, located at the corner of Webster Street, is just as accessible to refugees as the Pine Street site, located about 1 1/3 miles south.

"We have loads of people who live near the institute. We do resettlement there. He haven't lost anybody in our ELS (English as a Second Language) classes. We haven't lost anybody in our meetings. We are as busy as ever," she said.

Mayor Ted Gatsas disagreed, saying the new location means many refugees will have farther to travel since, he said, most live in the downtown neighborhoods near Pine Street.

"It's not an easy place for them to get to," Gatsas said.

"I certainly would have thought they would have found a building in closer proximity if they were moving, versus all the way down there," he said.

Tika Acharya, executive director of the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, acknowledged the new site is farther away from neighborhoods were many east side refugees live, but he said most do not mind walking.

About five to 10 families living in the Valley Street area are most affected by the relocation, since the Elm Street office doubles the distance they must travel, Acharya said. Winter weather will pose a hazard to all refugees, he said.

Sr. Jacqueline R. Verville, executive director of the Holy Cross Family Learning Center on the West Side, said the new site is not as accessible as the Pine Street location and will pose particular problems in the winter for refugees, most of whom don't own cars.

"I thought it was terrible when I heard they moved over there," said Verville, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. "It's much too far for them to go."

The center serves mostly Bhutanese refugees, about half of whom live on the West Side, she and Acharya said.

Despite the increased distance, Verville said, "Our people don't complain. They are wonderful. They do not complain about anything."

kmarchoki@unionleader.com


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