October is Polish American Heritage Month. Michigan is home to the fifth-largest Polish-American community in the U.S., according to the Piast Institute, a research center of Polish-American affairs and one of Michigan’s Census data centers.
Virginia Skrzyniarz, CEO and co-founder of Piast Institute, says the organization was created to gather data and provide social services to the Polish community.
“We had these pockets of immigrants, mainly in Hamtramck that came and stayed. And they didn’t learn about the things that were afforded to them in terms of their health care, their mental health, their rights,” she said. “We knew that was the gap, [so we decided] whatever the needs of the community would be, is the direction that we would take.”
There are 900,000 Polish Americans in Michigan, which is likely an undercount, Skrzyniarz said. Many Polish Americans consider Hamtramck to be a focal point of the community, which is where the institute is located.
“Numbers always tell a story, and we just felt like, if we were going to tell our story, we needed to have those numbers,” she said. “….Nobody was doing that kind of work.”
Skrzyniarz says that while the Polish community is in its 5th and 6th generation in the U.S., there is still a need for social services due to new immigrants coming into the country.
The institute provides services for all community members — many of which live in Wayne and Macomb counties — and has become a focal point for bringing people together, she said.