Denise Phillips Beehag, Director of New American Integration
A 19 year veteran of the Institute, Ms. Phillips Beehag leads New American Integration’s efforts in assisting clients to achieve self-sufficiency and active participation in our Western New York community.
Name, title, how long you have been at the Institute?
[DPB]: Denise Phillips Beehag, Director of New American Integration and I have been here 19 years, in September.
What do you feel your role is as the Director of New American Integration at the Institute? Do you think your position has changed since starting here?
[DPB]: My role is to supervise resettlement, volunteer, welcoming and employment programs to ensure compliance, support my team in their work every day, and of course to ensure our clients receive quality services. Also, I spend time identifying gaps, related to the foreign-born, in our community that we can fill as a department and a community-based organization through new programming and collaborations. Not only do I find myself advocating on behalf of our services, but also for the needs and contributions of immigrants and refugees in Western New York. I have seen a shift from a focus on employment and resettlement to more of a focus on community—many of our programs are far-broader than the clients that we serve. We are so much more than just a resettlement agency, part of it having to do with adapting to changing times and part of it having to do with living in a city where the only population that is growing is that of immigrants and refugees.
What are your academic credentials and how has your career path led you to the Institute? How have they prepared you for your position?
[DPB]: I attended American University, majoring in International Relations and sort of fell into working in the hospitality industry in DC and Arizona, then here in Buffalo. My positions in human resources and training allowed me to hire and work with many immigrants and refugees—that is what eventually led me to the Institute.
What would you say is the most rewarding thing about working at an organization like the Institute?
[DPB]: For me, it’s when you see someone you worked with years ago and they remember you and want to share what is happening with them and their children. They often tell us that every time they pass the Institute, they tell their kids that this was their first home in America. To see how far people have come in achieving their own American dream—whether that means landing their first job, purchasing a home or achieving citizenship. To know that we were a small part of that is wonderful. It is very rewarding.
What is the first word that comes to mind when I say “International Institute of Buffalo”?
[DPB]: Home … not only for our clients, but after 19 years, it has become my second home.
Since the Institute works with diverse people from all over the world, what can you tell us about your own heritage?
[DPB]: I’ve done the whole ancestry.com thing. [Laughs.] You know, it was not always cool to talk about your ancestry. I am a third generation American on all sides with predominately Irish, English, Italian and Welsh roots. My grandfather tried to teach me Italian as a child so I have always felt a strong connection to that side of the family.
Given the international nature of the Institute, have you traveled abroad? Any places on your bucket list?
[DPB]: I have traveled to Mexico, France and England (my husband’s home country.) I bring the world to me; many of my clients, friends, and co-workers will bring me jars of dirt from all over the world. I proudly display them in my office. There are two places that I really want to get to: Morocco and Egypt.
If you could sit down with any historical figure, who would you choose?
[DPB]: Ann Boleyn, I am fascinated by everything Tudor—I would love to just get the real story. Her marriage during Henry VIII’s reign changed so much of England’s history, not to mention the real irony that their daughter, Elizabeth I, would become such an important figure herself.
Favorite international food?
[DPB]: Grape leaves and pretty much anything Lebanese.
[DPB]: Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. I have an older edition that my husband gave to me from the year that it was published in 1938.
What can you tell me about your life away from the Institute?
[DPB]: I am a professional singer in a music duo and I spend time volunteering for a local maternity animal shelter and a few dog foster groups. Last year, I took up sailing. I am also crazy about my two Old English Sheepdogs.
How would you best describe yourself?
[DPB]: Creative, sensitive and that I have something of a “peter-pan complex.” I’ve decided I am not getting any older [laughs] … I realized that I can no longer put off things I have wanted to do all my life; “one day” is now, that is why I am trying all sorts of new things.