FIRN is a nonprofit organization in Howard County, Maryland that empowers immigrants, refugees, asylees and other foreign-born individuals by helping them to access community resources and opportunities. FIRN provides immigration counseling and citizenship classes, interpreting & translation services, English tutoring, information and referrals and a variety of workshops.
FIRN grew out of an informal support service for foreign-born students at Howard Community College (HCC) and an idea by Pat Hatch for a place where immigrants could ask questions “without feeling stupid”. Pat shared her idea with the Columbia Foundation and with HCC’s teachers of English as a Second Language, whose students were continually posing questions that had little to do with English, but much to do with survival in a new culture.
Pat and HCC joined forces. With initial seed money from the Columbia Foundation, FIRN opened its doors in October 1981, staffed only by Pat. In its first year, the project served 90 persons from 10 countries. In 1984, FIRN was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Slowly its services expanded to include immigration counseling, interpreting and other critical services. Today, FIRN serves immigrants from over 75 countries and is well known as the key resource in Central Maryland for the foreign born. It also provides valuable assistance and guidance to health and human service agencies that serve immigrant clients.