By Niamh Lynch
The U.S. Senate’s passing of the immigration reform bill offers reason for hope for Boston’s undocumented, among them many Irish. While they wait for the bill to advance in the House, however, some undocumented immigrants continue to face immediate personal challenges that are made worse by lack of access to healthcare and to professional counseling services. In the past, these people might have fallen through the cracks, but thanks to a unique partnership between the Irish Government and the Irish International Immigrant Center, they now have free access to a culturally responsive professional counselor right here in Boston.
Dublin woman Danielle Owen will seem instantly familiar to anyone from Ireland. Warm and unfussy, the IIIC’s resident counselor is the kind of person who always seems to have time for a bit of chat. Behind her easy manner, however, lies a wealth of professional experience that includes work with underprivileged young people in Artane, with struggling families in Lusaka, Zambia, and with those battling addiction in Tallaght. As she herself says, “I’ve seen everything and I’ve heard everything.”
Danielle came to the U.S. in 2004 expressly to work with and offer counseling to vulnerable Irish immigrants. She loves her job: “People take a leap of faith in letting me into their lives and giving me the honor of being on a path with them, of helping them on their journey.” A majority of her clients at the IIIC are undocumented. They come to her for help in dealing with depression, with adjustment to life in America, with relationships, with managing grief, or because they are ready to address an addiction. Often, she says, the first contact comes from a concerned relative or friend anxious to find help for a struggling loved one.
Funding for the IIIC’s counseling service comes from the Irish Government as a measure of practical assistance to the many thousands of undocumented and uninsured Irish living in Boston. The service is free and entirely confidential. Most of her clients see Danielle once a week, but ultimately people can come as often as it takes to make a positive difference in their life. Many times it helps to simply have the opportunity to talk with someone from home, someone familiar, someone whose accent says “pull up a chair, I’ll put the kettle on.”
Danielle Owen is a licensed alcohol and drug counselor at the Irish International Immigrant Center and a graduate of the Hazelden School of Addiction Studies. She can be reached directly at 617-542-7654 ext 14.
Written by contributing writer, Niamh Lynch http://www.niamhlynch.com/index.html.