Nationalities Service Center

Organizational mission statement (50 words or less): 

NSC welcomes and empowers immigrants to thrive in our  communities and pursue a just future.

Brief description of organization (include key programs and recent achievements, 100 words or less):

Here at  Nationalities Service Center (NSC), we believe that immigrants and refugees are a critical part of the fabric of life  in the United States, and it is our vision that all immigrants and refugees achieve a life of dignity, safety, stability,  sustainable opportunities and meaningful connections to their communities. To this end, NSC provides  comprehensive services to immigrants and refugees, including free or low-cost legal protections, community  integration, access to health and wellness services, and ESL classes. Our dedicated staff are committed to ensuring  that each of our clients receives high-quality holistic care and work together to refer clients to internal and external services based on the individual’s needs. When the pandemic hit, we pivoted the agency to provide for  our clients’ basic human needs, including food, shelter, and access to healthcare and language-appropriate mental  health treatment. Since March 2020, we have introduced teletherapy, culturally-respectful food deliveries, virtual  support groups, online tutoring for kids, mask distribution, and rent and direct cash assistance, all in order to keep  our clients afloat. Our goal, now, is to help mitigate the income inequality that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, to keep our clients—90% of whom were already at or below the federal poverty level—from falling  into unemployment, hunger, homelessness, and illness.


Population served (25 words or less):

Immigrants and refugees, including high-needs populations such as survivors  of torture, trafficking, crime, and domestic violence, 90% of whom live at or below the federal poverty line

Geographic area(s) served: 

Philadelphia and the surrounding counties 

In which Life Science Cares Area of Focus is your organization’s work primarily? 



Does the organization already receive support from or otherwise engage life science companies? If so, how? 

We  have received event sponsorships from life sciences companies, including Cigna and Amerisource Bergen, in this  or past years. These have not been ongoing relationships.

Please outline existing volunteer opportunities or programs & initiatives that harness human capital including any current virtual volunteer events:

Volunteers who can write in languages other than English  are invited to submit encouraging letters to include in hand-delivered food boxes. We also welcome  volunteer tutors to help immigrant children online with their homework, volunteer teachers to run our  (currently online) ESL classes, volunteer workers to grocery shop and set up homes for newly-arrived  refugees, and volunteer drivers to deliver boxes of culturally-respectful food.  


Please outline proposed or potential future volunteer opportunities or programs & initiatives that harness human capital including any planned virtual volunteer events:  

We anticipate that our current  volunteer opportunities will continue into the future. We will also be looking for volunteers to join our  100th Anniversary Advisory Committee, to help us plan, promote, and host seminal events for our  centennial in 2021.  


Please signify the type of support you are requesting from Life Science Cares:

Operations / General Support

Project Title:

Keeping Vulnerable Immigrants Afloat Under COVID-19


Total Project Budget (if applicable):



Requested Amount:


In which Life Science Cares Area of Focus is the requested project’s work?


Basic Human Survival


Description of Need (What is the issue you plan to address? What are the demographics and number of people you plan to serve, if applicable?):


If awarded, NSC plans to use general operating support from Life Science Cares to help keep our immigrant and refugee clients safe, fed, warm, housed, and afloat during this extended public health and economic crisis.


At NSC, we serve some of the most vulnerable people in the world—from the Honduran trafficking victim with PTSD to the Lebanese restaurant worker supporting a family of five on minimum wage. Forced out of their homes by violence, war lords, lack of opportunity, and all manner of persecution, most are contending with deep and lingering trauma.


Even before the pandemic, our clients were teetering on the edge. With 90% living at or below the federal poverty level, they weren’t in a position to weather even short periods of unemployment. They lacked emergency funds, employer benefits, health insurance, and—in 70% of cases—the right to claim unemployment compensation. To make matters worse, most of our clients live in crowded, multigenerational housing, where the spread of infection is more likely, while a full quarter have chronic health issues, leaving them more susceptible to coronavirus. With nothing to gird them in a crisis, our clients could find their lives unraveled at the shuttering of a restaurant or a warehouse.


Tragically, the pandemic has devastated our clients’ finances, educations, and mental health. Most don’t have the option of working from home, and 54% report lost income. Meanwhile 67% of those still employed are essential workers, jeopardizing their health even as hazard pay expires. With schools and daycares closed, some parents have had to quit their jobs. Some children don’t have laptops to complete online coursework, and some families lack the language-access resources to tutor them. Hunger has soared, with 512% more people seeking food assistance from NSC, and 36% are behind on rent. Clients are also seeking therapy in far greater numbers, reporting anxiety about their chance at a decent future.

Specific Activities (Please detail what activities you intend to undertake as a result of the grant. Include information about service delivery and timelines.):


In the span of a few weeks, NSC transformed itself from a full-service, site-based agency into a fully-remote pandemic response unit. We reconfigured our services to meet emerging basic needs—expanding our food access program, for example. In addition, we focused our fundraising efforts on a pass-through emergency assistance fund. In March we launched “We’re in this Together,” an emergency relief campaign which directs 100% of proceeds to clients. The fund, coupled with existing program resources, has allowed us to meet our clients’ basic needs.

In Phase I of our pandemic response, which ran through the end of June, we: Distributed a total of $318,324 in cash and food assistance to immigrants Distributed 1,044 gift cards for groceries and basic needs Partnered with six other immigrant-focused agencies to distribute $30,000 beyond our clientele Provided an average of $809 to 787 immigrant households for rent, food, and other basic needs Provided food assistance to 464% more people Increased monthly therapy sessions by 172%


Now, in Phase II, as the region reopens, we’re helping our winded clients get back on their feet:


Delivering culturally respectful food: We’re delivering boxes of food to our most vulnerable families every month. These boxes contain 55 pounds of dried grains and legumes, fresh produce, and specialized ingredients, reflecting one of five disparate regions of the world. For vulnerable families, these deliveries are a nutritional lifeline.


Keeping families housed: In an effort to keep clients housed, we’re negotiating with landlords, connecting clients to public rent assistance, and covering rent payments.


Linking clients to healthcare: We’re educating people about COVID-19 in many languages, and linking clients to linguistically-appropriate medical care.


Supporting mental health: We’re providing tele-therapy in many languages, and running support groups for children, youth, and parents to help lessen social isolation.


Helping families navigate virtual learning: We’ve launched a tutoring program to keep immigrant kids on track, distributed kids’ books and backpacks, given out Chromebooks to kids who need them, and partnered with the City and Comcast to get low-cost Internet to schoolkids. We’re partnering with Council for Relationships to run support groups for overwhelmed parents.


Getting clients get back to work: We’re finding jobs for laid-off clients, providing gift cards to cover transportation and uniform costs, and distributing cloth masks sewn by a group of refugees.


Offering telephonic legal consultations at no cost: We have eliminated fees for our legal consultations.



Evaluation (What are the anticipated results? What methods will you use to measure your progress? What does success look like?):


If we are successful, NSC’s clients will have their basic human needs met throughout the duration of this crisis. This means clients will have their physical needs—for warmth, food, healthcare, and housing—met. We are also striving to keep clients mentally strong, by providing virtual support groups, therapy, and homework help. We are surveying our case-managed clients on a monthly or bimonthly basis in order to identify their needs. This allows us to identify emerging problems and develop new programs as needed (e.g., introducing a tutoring program to help kids falling behind in school), and to direct specific types of assistance (e.g., no-contact food deliveries) to those who need it. In addition, we have developed a comprehensive data tracking system that allows us to see changes in client needs over the course of the pandemic.



Does this project already have support from life science companies? If so, what is the nature of that support?


NSC has received event sponsorships from life sciences companies, including Cigna and Amerisource Bergen, in this or past years. These have not been ongoing relationships.




Is there any other information not captured elsewhere regarding your organization, project, program or initiatives that you believe will help the Life Science Cares team in evaluating your request?

The data we have been collecting provides an eye-opening look at the needs our clients are experiencing right now. In the first quarter of CY20, we served 321 primary clients. In the third quarter of CY20, we served 418 primary clients—an increase of 30%. But those numbers don’t tell the full story. In Q1, we provided a total of 15,984 discrete services, which increased to 23,058 discrete services by Q3—an increase of 44%. Many of our clients are now being served in new or additional ways. Some of our programs—including ESL—shrank due to COVID-19 restrictions, while others were expanded or introduced to meet our clients’ needs. In terms of expanded services, we provided mental health services to 65% more clients, through 42% more services. We’ve enrolled 11% more clients in our case management programs, helped 17% more clients to access health services, and helped 13% more clients to find employment or re-employment. These services all saw increased demand as a result of the pandemic.


In terms of entirely new services, we are now delivering face masks; running virtual support groups for parents, children, and youth; operating a robust online tutoring program to provide homework help to 110 immigrant children; and offering virtual learning support by distributing backpacks and books and manning a helpline. In total, we have provided 1157 entirely new services since March 2020.


How does your organization or program differentiate from other organizations doing similar work? Are you executing or proposing to executive an innovation in program or service?


What distinguishes NSC from other immigrant-focused human service agencies in the region is the comprehensiveness of our approach, and—right now—our large-scale food distribution program.


NSC has always prided itself on serving the whole person—providing a full range of services, from legal assistance to ESL to employment assistance to holistic wellness—which not only makes it easier for our clients to set up their new lives here, but also allows us to become a trusted provider and a hub for the immigrant community. In the pandemic, we have adapted our services significantly, but we continue to provide for the whole person. We are providing legal assistance, meeting physical needs, offering mental health treatment, and running virtual support groups to replicate that sense of community. NSC is still a trusted, one-stop hub for our clients, even if our services are now mostly virtual.


In addition, NSC is fulfilling an important niche right now in food distribution. Our immigrant clients are often reluctant to access mainstream food banks, for a number of reasons. Our clients hail from different regions of the world, and they do not necessarily know how to cook the more processed American foods found in food pantries. Some do not have the time or the ability to leave the house to wait in long lines for food, and some are afraid. Our clients are a special population—they need familiar, whole, unprocessed foods they can use to recreate recipes from home, and they need a safe and convenient way to retrieve it. We responded to that need by creating a food delivery program. Before the pandemic, we ran a small-scale food pantry. But now, we are delivering boxes of culturally-respectful food to our 100 most vulnerable families. We’ve created five different boxes reflecting cooking styles from around the world. Our clients are receiving staples, including bags of rice, dried legumes, flour, sugar, and cooking oil, as well as fresh produce, on a monthly basis. These boxes provide a tailored nutritional lifeline to a special needs group. In Phase I of our pandemic response, we mailed gift cards not only to our own clients, but also to six other immigrant-serving agencies for distribution to their clients, and we may return to the gift card model as COVID-19 surges in the winter.