To clients and advocates alike Terry Tiberi is seen as the backbone of the Immigration Assistance Program at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark. The New York native began her career nearly 21 years ago as a secretary in the Behavioral Health Services unit. However, her relationship with the organization started on a more personal note years before when she fostered children from Vietnam through its Project Haven Program.
Tiberi’s superb organizational skills and professionalism led her to quickly advance throughout Catholic Charities, including time in the Special Services division and supervising staff in both refugee resettlement and workforce development. As she begins the next chapter of her life, her legacy and contributions will not be forgotten. Here are a few final gems from the beloved Terry Tiberi on her time as office manager and the importance of immigration legal services providers.
Q: Tell us about one of your most memorable moments working at Catholic Charities?
A: The early refugee settlement program provides the most memories with some of the funniest incidents. This was mostly the Bosnian crisis era. I loved having their children come into my office, and even dealing with some of the emergencies they managed to create. [One time], a family set a fire because they were drying their clothes in the oven! There are just too many incidents to relate. I loved the refugees.
Q: What kept you in this business so long, especially considering the controversial nature of immigration?
A: Yes, the immigration [field] has been trying these days. However, even though my position is “clerical” in nature, I am supporting those who are helping people that are in GREAT need right now. Immigration legal services is definitely one area that fits my personal faith mission.
Q: What is one of your most interesting skills you learned while in this role?
A: I managed to learn a little Spanish. Not a lot, but enough to cover a reception desk when the receptionist is out! Over the years, I had the opportunity to participate in statewide committees with both Legal Services of New Jersey’s Antipoverty Network and the former New Jersey Immigration Policy Network. The connections I made often helped me provide some social service connections for our clients.
Q: How have you seen the community improve due to the work of Catholic Charities?
A: I know of some dramatic saves in this office—that is, clients who were either ripped off or had poor work done by notarios and our accredited representatives or attorneys fixed the problem with immigration. Those are individual life changing events. Our staff also does outreach events to properly inform the community of the law and provide Know Your Rights education, and they attend various legal immigration or asylum-related community organization meetings. All of this helps provide the immigrant community, a population that is often at the mercy of unscrupulous providers, with access to sound, affordable legal help.
Q: What would you say to someone who is just starting out doing this work to inspire them to not give up?
A: Make certain your heart is really in this business. These clients need our help and they need the stability of consistently having the availability of their counselor or attorney available over a long period of time. There is not a great financial reward, so the mindset has to be to work with compassion and charity, regardless of this drawback.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you learned over your career, either about yourself or this industry?
A: I am definitely walking out the door with a better understanding of the hardships of immigrants today. We’ve see many horror stories. We’ve seen and heard the stories of the children who have crossed the border and have suffered the apparent permanent separation of a parent. These sort of hardships did not exist when my grandfather brought relatives (and I’m referring to cousins, not even immediate relatives) to this country.
Q: What is next for you? What plans do you have for your retirement?
A: Ah—this is exciting. I am getting my bathroom upgraded slightly—only the necessary stuff, LOL. However, I will be doing some reading. My next book is “CRUX-A Cross-Border Memoir” by Jeanne Guerrero. I’m checking into some volunteer projects. There are several I am interested in, but I will not start one until probably the New Year. Initially, I am going to help out my best friend who has suffered through a devastating form of cancer and now her husband is not well. I currently do bring communion to a friend in a nursing home each week. I will be able to spend longer periods of time with my family in upstate New York and Long Island. There are no big travel plans on the horizon. A quick trip to the New Jersey Shore with friends is enough for me.