A Bittersweet Farewell: Saying Goodbye to Holly
The Center for New North Carolinians has officially been around since 2001 working to help immigrants and refugees access services and successfully integrate into the local North Carolina community. During the last 18 years, the CNNC has been fortunate to have leaders who inspire the work we do and further the Center’s goals. Dr. Holly Sienkiewicz has been that leader for the last several years. In July of this year, the CNNC reluctantly said goodbye to Holly, who accepted a position closer to her native New York and within the supportive reach of her family.
Holly first became acquainted with the CNNC back in 2008 while working on her doctorate at UNC Greensboro in Public Health. She reached out to then CNNC director, Dr. Raleigh Bailey for a possible collaboration with her class practicum requirement. During this meeting, Holly was convinced to join the AmeriCorps ACCESS Project as a minimum-time AmeriCorps member. Holly says that she agreed to become an AmeriCorps member because “I didn’t want to be a researcher who wrote about immigrants and refugees but never interacted with the population on a personal basis.” Thus, she served at the Avalon Trace Community Center providing cultural orientation classes to a women’s group. Over the years, Holly continued to be involved with the CNNC through its Research Fellows group.
In 2014, Holly heard the news that Dr. Bailey was attempting to retire from the CNNC for the third time and his position was being split into two: Director of Programs and Director of Research. Dr. Bailey encouraged Holly to apply for the Director of Research position. In the process of finishing her doctorate at the time, she felt underqualified for the role. At his urging and those of several other colleagues, Holly applied and felt honored to be selected for the position. She says, “I was so excited to combine my love of research with a community organization working with a population I was so passionate about.” About a year later, the Director of Programs resigned from her position, the two positions were merged anew, and Holly assumed the daunting task of Director for the CNNC. Holly was excited to help the CNNC better tell its story by improving its documentation and data collection methods.
Holly’s vision for the CNNC is that it continues to be a lead organization on best practices for serving immigrants and refugees in Greensboro and Guilford County. “I would love for the organization to continue to grow and truly become a model for North Carolina and beyond. The blend of community expertise and research is such a strength and the organization serves as a model because of this,” she says.
During her time as director, Holly learned about more than navigating state bureaucracy. She learned about resiliency through the personal stories of the staff and residents of the communities the CNNC serves. She learned about determination from families who, she says, “never lose hope that life can and will get better.” Compassion, faith, and vulnerability were other great lessons. “I’ve also learned that in this work you can’t please everyone and that’s okay. Taking a stand over what you feel is right and just is more important than stepping on other’s toes at times.” Holly is also taking away genuine relationships with community members, staff, community partners, and university faculty, staff, and interns.
Leaving the CNNC was not a decision Holly took lightly. Ultimately, it was the need for support for her own growing family that led her to seek out an opportunity at Common Ground Health in Rochester, NY, where she is now the Director of Research. Her new organization works to alleviate health disparities using data and community collaboration. “In my first two weeks there, I was able to meet with a group of Latina mothers who successfully turned vacant lots in their neighborhood from a spot that was known for drug deals and other illicit activity into a children’s garden,” Holly reports. “I’m also excited that in my new role I see so many potential avenues of collaboration with the CNNC, UNCG, and other partner organizations.”
If we were to ask every person who met Holly to talk about the impact she made on the CNNC, its partner organizations, and the Greensboro immigrant and refugee communities, we could turn an article into a book. There are so many wonderful things we can all say about how Holly.
Natacha Nikokeza, Coordinator for the Legacy Crossing and Glen Haven Community Centers, says “Holly brought great communication and transparency to the CNNC. She has a way of connecting with people, no matter who they are. I appreciated that about her. Holly saw a lot more in me and gave me confidence to want to challenge myself. I will always be grateful.”
“Holly was a caring mentor who saw beyond someone who was just starting to grow as a professional,” says Krycya Flores, coordinator for the Thriving at Three program. “She saw my potential and gave me the needed support to thrive in every program I have coordinated here at the Center. She truly cared about the community and we saw that in the way she decided to assist with the Summit and Cone tragedy. I learn supervisory skills from Holly but the most important thing I learned from her was to believe in and give people a chance.”
“Holly was not only the right person to assume the leadership role at the CNNC during a number of unforeseen challenges, but she strengthened our foundation and our mission. It is due to her intellect, determination, poise, and willingness to go above and beyond that the CNNC was able to navigate hard times and grew during her tenure as Director,” shares Lizzie Biddle, Senior Program Coordinator. “Holly believed in the CNNC staff, mission and the value of being a tireless advocate for the community we serve. We will miss her deeply.”
The CNNC has benefitted from having had Holly as its director for the last few years. She helped to develop the staff, grow the capacity of the Center and its programs, and make an impact in the lives of immigrants and refugees in Guilford County. For now, Holly and her family are settling into their new life in Rochester and looking forward to the arrival of their second child. She plans to stay connected with the CNNC and become the newest member of the CNNC’s advisory board this fall.
Though Holly will be missed, we are excited for her and wish her the best in her new role!