Portia Kamara Works to Promote Diversity in Upper DarbyFeb 17, 2019 08:00AM ● By Lois Cheaye
Portia Kamara is the cofounder and executive director of the Multicultural Community Family Services (MCFS) located in Upper Darby, Pa. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from the University of Liberia, a Master’s degree in social work from Temple University and more than 15 years at the Philadelphia Department of Human Services as a social worker and social work supervisor, Portia relocated with her family to Upper Darby in 2002, seeking community and a welcoming place.
Upon resettling in Upper Darby, Portia not only discovered a diverse Upper Darby, but uncovered that Upper Darby had also become home to a growing number of Liberians and other African Immigrants who had fled civil wars in their home countries and were also seeking a safe and welcoming community to live and raise their families.
Portia further discovered that African Immigrant adults and youths alike were encountering significant language, cultural, educational, social and health challenges which made acculturating and integrating into the community extremely difficult, as existing educational, health systems and traditional social service providers were culturally unprepared to respond to the challenges presented by the new immigrants.
The above challenges highlighted services gaps by traditional social service providers and give birth to the founding of the Multicultural Community Family Services, an Upper Darby, PA-based 501 (c) 3 social service organization in 2003, which operated from the back porch of the family’s home for three years, before acquiring space in the business district of Upper Darby in 2006.
Under the leadership of Portia Kamara and the MCFS board of directors, MCFS began the provision of culturally targeted and interconnected advocacy, educational, social, prevention, health and recreation support services aimed at bridging the cultural, linguistic and communication gaps faced by Liberians and other African/Caribbean immigrants and empowering them to succeed in their resettled community.
Once Kamara saw the need for MCFS to expand its services to immigrants and all others, she welcomed and provided access to any one in the immigrant population and general public with a need to utilize the services provided by MCFS.
Today, MCFS has expanded to five divisions; adult education services, home and community-based services, community outreach, behavior support, and its professional development and training division. MCFS operates several programs including youth soccer, immigrant supports and English As a Second Language (ELS), The Elders Circle, Palava Hut Conversations, Preparing Older Youth for Success (POYS) job readiness program, home care services and partners with local government entities and organizations including the Delaware County Workforce Investment Board, the Township of Upper Darby, the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, Philabundance, the Wawa Harvest Program, Good Sports, The Liberian Association Pennsylvania, the Coalition of African and Caribbean Communities (AFRICOM), the Christ Lutheran Community Church of Upper Darby under the leadership of Pastor David Shaheed, the Liberian Radio and Television Network, among others to deliver its programs and services. Each service specializes in developing the individual professionally, socially, or artistically while connecting them to each other for support. This framework helps to eliminate the loneliness that comes with immigrating to a new place. Each program targets the heart of the struggle for the demographic. While the elders gather for activities like sewing and jewelry making, the youth go through job readiness preparation including reengaging in their level of education.
There is soccer program that meets twice a week to get the members to socialize and reconnect with their bodies through exercise. No one person is left behind, and each gap is filled with an opportunity to excel in life. In envisioning an aid for those disadvantaged community members because of variants in education, language, and other skills, Kamara sought after the humanity in togetherness.
A Liberian by birth, Portia’s initial plan was to support Liberians become successful. She quickly realized that such approach limited the scope and extent of her work and knew that restricting her services would challenge the reason she wanted to “find community” in the first place. Her obligation was to the people. There was no hesitation, she wanted to aid everyone in a place she once was, “You have to extend that work beyond the Liberian community to the wider African community…
We saw that there are many other immigrant communities here too [that needed] language-access services, immigration support services, ESL services. They also need advocacy”.
The Multicultural Community Family Services has revolutionized community outreach for immigrants for 15 years in empowering children, youth, adults, and elders and their dreams for a better life. There are still rooms to critique Upper Darby’s aid to these communities. Members usually discuss improvements at the Palava Hut, a reference to some African cultures that would meet their elders in a round hut to settle disagreement or discuss issues impacting the community.
Kamara’s vision for Upper Darby is to further its work as a municipality that embraces and supports people of different cultures and languages, “Our diversity and differences are where our strength lies and if we can value that and demonstrate that through how we engage with each other, the stronger we can become.” She added that Upper Darby’s strength is an evolving community that is progressing towards supporting all people.