Our History

Founded in 1914, as a branch of the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association), the International Institute of Los Angeles aimed to help immigrant women adapt to life in the United States. The Institute offered a place for immigrants to gather for special events and holidays in the courtyard (pictured here in 1932) to foster greater cross-cultural understanding.

For over a century IILA has offered a wide range of services to assist limited-English proficient and low-income individuals achieve self-sufficiency. In the 1960s, offerings were expanded to include a wide array of legal assistance, resettlement of refugees and asylum applicants, survivors of human trafficking, and free or low-cost child care and transportation.

black and white of IILA courtyard in Boyle Heights, CA

1910s to 1930s 

  • 1914: The International Institute of Los Angeles, part of the YWCA, was organized to serve the women and girls coming from Europe and Asia and “to assist the foreign communities in their adjustment to life in this country.” 
  • 1914-1915: Met Japanese picture brides at the harbor and helped them in their adjustment. 
  • 1922: National YWCA Department of Immigration and Foreign Born became the national organization for the International Institute. 
  • 1930-1932: Provided relief to immigrant communities through the Family Welfare Association during the Depression. 
  • 1936: The Council of Social Agencies approved incorporation of the International Institute as an independent agency.

1940s to 1950s

  • 1941: Opposed forced relocation and held meetings with leading citizens, organizations, and government officials to prevent the evacuation of Japanese Americans. Helped more than 1,500 Japanese Americans submit applications for certificates of identity and developed programs for education and social services in the Japanese relocation camps.
  • 1945:  Assisted foreign-born brides of World War II veterans in understanding the changes they faced in their new  cultural settings. 
  • 1948: Helped  refugees from Communist Bloc countries adjust to life in the United States through individual services and group activities via the Displaced Persons Act. 
  • 1953: Under the East European Project begun by a Ford Foundation grant, opened branch at 5058 Fountain Avenue for ex-Soviet Displaced Persons and provided vocational counseling, assistance in personal adjustment and social integration. 
  • 1956: Assisted with housing, employment, relief and social adjustment for Freedom Fighters of the Hungarian Revolution who were resettled in the Los Angeles area.

1960s to 1970s

  • 1962: Resettled refugees who came to Los Angeles fleeing the Cuban Revolution. 
  • 1971: Founded One-Stop Immigration Center after a federally funded project, Model Cities, provided funds to serve immigrants in Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno and Cypress Park. 
  • 1974: With a nutrition program for the Older New American, funded by the California State Office on Aging, provided nutritious meals, social service information, referral and socialization for low-income senior citizens in East Los Angeles. 
  • 1975: Developed Van Nuys office to serve increasing number of Arabic-speaking immigrants in the area.  Began resettlement of Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles area in coordination with American Council for Nationalities Service and International Rescue Committee. 
  • 1976: Initiated the Family Child Care program and established the first Child Care Center in City Terrace with 24 children. 
  • 1977:  Launched a federally funded supportive social services program for new refugees. 
  • 1978: Opened the International Senior Multipurpose Center. 

1980s to 1990s

  • 1982: Opened the Aliso Pico Multipurpose Center to serve the families living in the Aliso Pico Housing Projects. 
  • 1983: Established an Armenian Business Development and Training Center, a joint project with the Armenian Evangelical Social Services Center. 
  • 1986: Launched program to assist thousands in applying for legalization after the Immigration Reform and Control Act was signed into law, creating the legalization program and employer sanctions.  
  • 1993: Offered the Immediate Needs Transportation Program, initiated to provide transportation services to people in need in the wake of Los Angeles civil unrest in 1992. 
  • 1994: Opened El Rinconcito del Sol, an adult respite care program for Alzheimer’s patients in Boyle Heights.  Opened Fresno and Merced offices to provide refugee services to newly arriving Hmong refugees from Laos and Thailand. 
  • 1998: Launched $1 million job development program for people with limited English language skills. 
  • 1999: Initiated the Refugee and Immigrant Training and Employment (RITE) program in El Monte, Burbank, Van Nuys, and Lincoln Heights, providing case management and job placement for refugees and immigrants in Los Angeles County.

2000s

  • 2001: Purchased a commercial kitchen for the Child Nutrition Division to make and deliver thousands of meals each month. 
  • 2003: Launched a new School Readiness Initiative with First 5 LA to serve families in El Sereno. 
  • 2004-2005: Reopened two offices in Fresno and Merced to resettle over 1,100 Hmong refugees (the final group arriving from Thailand). Began initial outreach to assist victims of Human Trafficking. 
  • 2006: Opened an office in Glendale to help resettle religious minority refugees arriving from Iran. 
  • 2007: Began a Refugee Healthy Marriages Program to provide communication workshops for refugee couples and served over 200 individuals each year. 
  • 2008: Began Refugee Employment Program funded at over $1 million by LA County to place refugees in jobs. Hired 25 new staff and opened new office in Glendale.  Initiated Refugee Healthy Families program with grant from our national office (US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants). Refugees from Iraq war began arriving in greater numbers.  Began the TEAM Program, funded by the State CPUC, to educate limited English proficient residents on telephone services.  Opened three new childcare facilities. 
  • 2008-2012: The U.S. suffered the most severe financial crisis in decades, resulting in massive bailouts of corporations.  California suffers a protracted $42 billion deficit, resulting in many months of gridlock and freeze in payments to agencies contracted with the State, including IILA. In the succeeding years IILA advocated against attempts to completely eliminate various social safety net programs in California, including the entire welfare program “CalWORKS” and In-Home Supportive Services, and severe cuts to childcare. 
  • 2009: IILA recognized by the U.S. House of Representatives and the California State Assembly for its work in childcare.  After producing 11 million child meals, IILA sold its Beverly/Union kitchen and two-flat building and launched construction of state-of-the art commercial kitchen at our Selig headquarters, which opened November of 2009.  

2010s

  • 2011: Secured a national grant to assist refugees with opening “micro-enterprise” in-home childcare businesses. Received grant for Post Release Services to help undocumented minors in need of legal and social services. 
  • 2012: Began Victims of Human Trafficking Program through the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.  Funded by South Bay Workforce Investment Board to place low income clients in jobs. 
  • 2013: Begin services to undocumented youth who benefitted from Presidential deferred action (DACA).  Families in Schools, an offshoot of First 5 Los Angeles, awards IILA $50,000 to support our work in our commercial kitchen as a “Social Enterprise.” 
  • 2015: Led the entire national USCRI network in submission of petitions to reunite Central American youth with their relatives residing here.

2020s

  • 2021-2022:  Resettled nearly 900 Afghan newcomers after the fall of Kabul in August 2021. 
  • 2022: Began offering services to Ukrainian humanitarian parolees fleeing their homes in the wake of the Russian invasion of February 2022.