Hilary Greene exiting as director of Berkshire Immigrant Center

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PITTSFIELD — Hilary Greene remembers helping a client from Cambodia reunite with her daughter, whom she believed had died during the violent Khmer Rouge regime.

It took four years — but her daughter came to the United States.

"The day her daughter arrived was a pretty special day, and one I think I'll always remember," she said.

Greene, the director of the Berkshire Immigrant Center, recalled successes like that one after confirming her formal resignation to the Eagle on Wednesday.

She recently realized that the organization's goal of expansion required a full-time director, and that would impact her commitments to coaching cross-country running and girl's skiing.

"It's time to acknowledge that we need someone full-time," she said. "It's a hard decision, because it feels a little bit selfish, because I don't want to give up my cross-country skiing or a bunch of other things I do in the community."

Despite this, the immigrant center is in a good place for her to leave, she said.

The immigrant center is expanding — staff just moved locations from the First Baptist Church in Pittsfield to a larger office at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, also in Pittsfield. The new location will be open to clients next week.

The immigrant center's development coordinator, Sheryl Lechner, also was hired in May.

"I think it's been a whirlwind to the point where I haven't even looked up and thought beyond tomorrow," Greene said. "Which is probably a good thing."

Greene originally expected to remain at the immigrant center through the summer to help train new staff — two full-time caseworkers.

But she might remain longer, as the immigrant center has to hire another full-time caseworker after one rescinded her acceptance after realizing her long commute from New York would be unworkable.

"I'm in a really fortunate position that I don't have something else lined up," Greene said. "I'm happy to stay and help out as long as I'm needed. When the right time comes, I'll see what else is out there."

Greene said she would love to continue immigration work, but that might not be a realistic option in a small community like Berkshire County.

She has been the director of the immigrant center — formerly known as the New American Citizenship Coalition — since 1999.

"What Hilary Greene can accomplish in 16 hours a week is daunting," said Brooke Mead, current program coordinator for the immigrant center. "She is a ball of energy."

Mead will be taking over Greene's position.

More than just her energy and accomplishments, Mead values Greene's commitment to serving others.

"I think [Greene] has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know," she said. "I can picture her moving furniture up three flights of stairs ... late at night because she heard a family didn't have a bed."

Greene's willingness to go above and beyond for clients inspires Mead.

"I feel like her legacy is ... look first to the clients," she said. "That's why we're here. I love my clients. It really renews my faith in the American spirit to work with them."

Greene will be doing casework as she concludes her time at the immigrant center, which involves direct client interaction.

"That's really why we do this work, and that's my favorite part," she said. "I can't even describe to you what it feels like to have someone come in and thank you for having achieved a benefit [that's] life-changing [for them]."

New caseworkers and a full-time director are part of the immigrant center's efforts to expand, not just focus on meeting its budget, Mead said.

A full-time director can take on important responsibilities that can get lost in the day-to-day work of serving clients, including collaborations and outreach to the community.

"That second level of outreach is something that we have struggled with," Mead said. "If you're constantly choosing between your clients and doing that, it's hard not to let the clients win. What are we if we're not serving clients?"

Staff will also undertake a strategic planning process this year to formulate long-term plans for the immigrant center.

Demand for the immigrant center's services has been growing. In fiscal 1999, the previous iteration of the immigrant center served 60 people.

By the middle of the current fiscal year, the immigrant center had already served almost 500 people, she said.

"As long as Berkshire County continues to be a welcoming place ... that demand will continue to go up and up," she said.

Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.


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