For Board Chair Barbara Jackson, the Hispanic immigrant community that lives in Mount Kisco has similarities to historical patterns of immigration, with successive groups coming to America in search of a better livelihood.
Interested in history - her husband Kenneth Jackson is a professor at Columbia University - she notes that looking back, we are all immigrants.
“It’s been our narrative, it’s been our story.”
Jackson has chaired the board for two years and was recently elected to serve two more. In addition, she chairs the board for Neighbors Link Network, which is the umbrella group for both its Mount Kisco and Stamford, CT organizations. Seeking to devote herself to Mount Kisco, she will be stepping down from that broader one in June, which she has chaired for a year and a half.
On her watch, Neighbors Link has seen several milestones in the past year. Last spring, the Mount Kisco chapter celebrated its 10th anniversary . Its "A Nation of Immigrants" in parternship with a local Italian-American Club and attracted about 4,000 people. And there was .
“You can see easily how it becomes a model for best practices," Jackson said of its services.
In some ways, Jackson noted that she has similarities in her background to the immigrant community. She grew up in a poor neighborhood in Memphis, TN and was raised by her grandmother. Later, she traveled with her husband as he began his academic career, before they moved to New York in 1968 so he could begin teaching at Columbia. Eventually they moved to Westchester and settled in Chappaqua in 1975, where they have lived ever since.
Jackson went on to teach English at over in Rye Brook, spending 30 years doing so before her retirement in 2001. Once she stepped down, she planned to help her husband write his books and spend time with her grandchildren before taking interest in Neighbors Link.
The group was started, she explained, during a time in Mount Kisco with difficult relations between immigrants and the rest of the community. This took place against the backdrop of immigrant day laborers often congregating in front of the train station, which became an ad hoc hiring site for those in need of work.
“It was tense," she said.
Once Neighbors Link organized it became a central hiring site for immigrants, adding on recreation space, English as a Second Language (ESL) classess and job training services. Today, it has a slew of volunteers and instructional support from Westchester Community College.
“Those are just quality programs," said about the ESL support.
Today, Jackson notes, Neighbor's Link gets support from a number of people and organizations in the area. This ranges from a Mount Kisco police program called Police and Community Together (PACT), in which officers visit the center, to Open Door Family Medical Centers providing a mobile healthcare van at the center's site near Lexington Avenue.
There is also buy in and support from both the Bedford Central and Chappaqua school districts. hosts an after-school childcare program for kids called Learning Links while their parents are working. Students at have an organized program called Casa Lingua, where they go to the center and teach English, a program that Jackson likes because it bring people together who have different backgrounds.
Another such example of educational support is the recent move of a local Head Start program, which provides pre-school education to low-income kids, from the Neighbors Link site to because of a need for more space. The vacant space left at the Mount Kisco site will become a family center, according to Jackson.
"She is incredily selfless, said Carola Otero Bracco, the executive director for Neighbors Link.
Bracco described Jackson as someone who brings people together for a common mission and has respect in the community.
"I've learned so much from her," Bracco said.
Going forward, Jackson explained, future plans for Neighbors Link include offering more computer classes and more job skills. There are no plans to expand with more affiliates, but it could happen if people in other places are interested.
“We don’t go out and look for people but we are there if people need us,” she said.