In 1961, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society helped Amy Greenstein’s mother relocate from Cuba to the United States. Today, as HIAS’s director of young leadership development, Greenstein isn’t just giving back to the organization herself—she’s made a career of helping other young professionals channel their experiences and resources into serving immigrant populations all over the nation.
An international resettlement agency with headquarters in New York City, HIAS provides legal advice, humanitarian assistance and other services to refugee and immigrant populations around the world. The Young Leaders Program that Greenstein oversees facilitates grassroots immigrant-support projects led by professionals in their 20s and 30s and graduate students. “They might be immigrants themselves, or children or grandchildren of immigrants, or they might be activists,” she explains. “We help them to get involved and support those causes through education, advocacy, community services, and fund-raising.”
Started in the aftermath of the Argentinian economic crisis of 2001, the Young Leaders Program took off once Greenstein came on board in 2002 as the program’s first official coordinator. She structured the fledgling program, helped to define its mission and eventually launched new chapters in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Becoming program manager and taking on the oversight of the HIAS Scholarship Program, she attained her current position in 2009.
An anthropology major who grew up on Long Island, Greenstein spent her junior year in Jerusalem, where she returned as a postgraduate to study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. She sees a direct correlation between the study of how cultures interact and the work she does today. “With this job I’m constantly meeting people from different parts of the world,” she says. “If there are certain populations who have different ways of dealing with the world, I have to be sensitive … and use that in order to communicate better.”
On campus, Greenstein was active in community service, which included leadership of a tutoring program for middle school kids from Harlem her senior year. After graduating, she spent a year volunteering with students and senior citizens through City Year in the Boston area. Although her responsibilities as a director at HIAS often keep her busy in the office, she says it’s still the hands-on experience of helping other people that gets her going. “Even on a day when I’m frustrated by politics and logistics,” she says, “I feel very inspired by our mission: Helping people who are not safe find a safe haven—unfortunately that’s never going to be a need that goes away.” —J. CollinsRead about more Alumnae in Action