Dear Parents:

I am writing to introduce myself as the newly appointed executive director of Immigrant Social Services (ISS).

Born in Hong Kong, I came to the United States at the age of 9 with my family.  None of us spoke a word of English. My father had a third grade education and worked as a cook all his life and my illiterate mother, who never had an opportunity to attend school, worked as a sorter in garment factories tagging labels and putting plastic bags over the finished garments.  We did the best we could under whatever circumstances we were confronted with.  I grew up and played in the same streets and parks of Chinatown as your children, and I graduated from PS 42 and JHS 65 (it is now MS 131).  In essence, my family of nine is not unlike yours or the thousands of immigrant families that reside in this neighborhood over the generations and have made this community our home.

I know I am not particularly smart and I am not being modest!  Truthfully, I had a few fantastic teachers who never gave up on me; they pushed and encouraged me to be curious, to try and experiment, to explore and wonder the world beyond text books and homework, to think, to be fair and not to be afraid.  As a result, I was fortunate to attend Brooklyn Technical HS; Princeton University; and Columbia University.  I owe much to these wonderful people and I realized I must try to be like them.

I worked throughout college helping younger kids get into college; worked in a summer camp in the open spaces of upstate New York; developed summer youth employment programs for several hundred youngsters; and I worked with at-risk and gang kids after graduating from college.  Over time, I held a number of senior executive positions including the Director of Policy and Budget for the Manhattan Borough President and the Executive Director of Chinatown Manpower Project (a job/literacy training program).

As co-founder of the Museum of Chinese in America/MOCA, I was not personally attracted to art or photography.  But I know we would not be able to effectively tell the story of how the Chinese helped built America, of how we are leaders in every sector of American society and in our Chinatown/Lower East Side community without the vital intellectual and creative contributions from artists and photographers.  I am speaking not just about the Nobel laureates, but also about the everyday brave and heroic people like my parents – like you, who make it possible for our children to have every opportunity to rise to their greatest potential.

However, the real work for me is always about how I can help our next generation become great human beings and our future leaders.  This is how and why I came to ISS, to return full circle in helping to make a difference.

At ISS, we are working to nurture your child to become the next creative and healthy leader that “routinely” thinks outside the box and imagines the possibilities, and to equip your child with the skills needed to contribute to the world in meaningful ways. I believe testing does not make a person smart nor instills leadership qualities.  It takes much more than books to teach a child common sense, critical thinking or problem solving skills.  It requires creative thinking, practice, hands-on-learning, working in teams, and it most certainly requires a healthy body.  This is what we, at ISS, care about.

  • We do more than help your child in academic areas. We incorporate multiple learning strategies so that s/he can truly infuse the information into bone marrow-deep knowledge and can apply it creatively. Homework and testing are important, but they are only one piece of the puzzle because children all learn differently.
  • We incorporate physical activities needed to stimulate and enhance their growing bodies and minds.
  • We will expose the children to the creative arts, explore the richness of our diverse cultures, expand their imagination and seek the possible.
  • We will engage the children through hands-on project-based learning, bringing to bear the power of fun in the reinforcement of complicated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) subject matter.


We want our children to LOVE learning and not to see it as a chore to be avoided.  This is ISS.

We want your child to build a strong foundation for themselves for the rest of their life journey. For this to take hold, we must form a partnership with you, your child, and our staff.  While there may be occasions when your child will need to complete some of their homework at home, we hope your child will also excitedly share what they are learning and doing in our ISS program.

Thank you for entrusting your child with us.  Please come by the office at 137 Henry St. and share your ideas on how to make our program even more effective and meaningful.  I am looking forward to working with you and your child, for their future – and for the future of our community.


Charles Lai

Executive Director

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