What’s in a name?
In the case of the newly rechristened Irish Diaspora Center, quite a lot.
Formerly the Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia, the Diaspora Center has been broadening its mission for quite some time. The new name is just a recognition of all the ways in which the mission has evolved over that time.
“In doing our strategic planning with our board and setting the course for the next three years of the organization, we recognized that we serve a much broader base than just Irish immigrants,” says center Executive Director Emily Norton Ashinhurst. “So we wanted the name to represent the broader base of who we serve.”
The longtime Upper Darby-based organization originally began as the Irish Immigration and Pastoral Center and then switched over to the Immigration Center, but for quite a while center activities have expanded. For example, the senior luncheon has served Irish immigrants for years, as has the free legal immigration clinic, but in the meantime the mission has expanded to include, for example, a youth program known as Foróige and a genealogy program which serves the broader community.
“None of the services that we provide are changing,” says Ashinhurst. “This really was to more adequately reflect our mission and the work that we do.”
And the mission could broaden further.
“We are constantly looking for ways that we can serve the diaspora by looking at community needs throughout the area,” she says. “Our mental health program is one of those areas. We had started out by doing some grief counseling, some grief support groups. Those are on hiatus now just because we’re trying to find the appropriate time to host them, but they will be back. We’re doing more panel discussions on mental health because it affects the Irish and the Irish-American populations so prevalently. We’re looking at options there as far as what services we can provide. So it’s an exciting time to be here.”
The board voted on the name change in the fall, and it was announced publicly at the recent Straight Out of Ireland art exhibit. It coincides with the center’s annual appeal.
Though the Irish government did not play any role in the name change, the center did let the government know about it.
“They were thrilled,” says Ashinhurst. “This really aligns with their global Irish program. They’re really looking to serve the broader Irish diaspora. So those who are Irish-born, Irish-American or removed a generation, two, five or whatever—they’re looking to embrace the Irish at any stage of the immigration process.”
So far, the response to the name change has been overwhelmingly positive. Several people approached Ashinhurst at the center’s recent Christmas party to express their support, for example.
“Hopefully,” Ashinhurst says, “the new name gives people an opportunity to look at something new and different and recognize that this is a service that’s there for anyone who fits within the services we provide.”