Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

She's Helping Immigrants Make Pittsburgh their Home

An immigrant herself, Ellen Freeman is dedicated to making Pittsburgh more welcoming for foreign nationals.




photo BY DOUGLAS DUERRING

 

Immigrating to the United States from her native Ukraine gave Ellen Freeman the chance to follow a dream. Xenophobia forced her to reimagine her path to success.

“I really wanted to be a litigator. I’m good on my feet; I like speaking. I really enjoyed that the most,” she says. “Unfortunately, I listened to somebody who said, ‘You need to lose your accent. You can’t be a litigator with that accent.’”

Since she couldn’t find a speech pathologist in Pittsburgh at the time to help her sound more “American,” she switched her focus in law school from litigation to corporate law — which was especially difficult because capitalism was a foreign concept for someone from the former Soviet Union.

After finishing law school at the University of Pittsburgh in 1999, she became an associate at Cohen & Grigsby, where she was placed on the immigration law team, an unsolicited decision that became her passion.  She serves on the Business Taskforce of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and Law360’s Immigration Editorial Advisory Board and is a noted author and presenter on immigration law. She works with organizations in all facets of employment-based immigration and helps individuals with everything from temporary visas through permanent residence. Her field has garnered extra attention lately in light of changes proposed by the Trump administration.

“There is so much stress associated with not having a fixed immigration status. It’s like your life is quite uncertain on a regular, daily basis,” Freeman says. “When will there be a reckoning in this country when people realize that they are doing morally incomprehensible things?”

Still, she prefers to take the long view when it comes to changes in immigration law. “Coming from the former Soviet Union uniquely prepared me for dealing with the government and fighting the system and realizing that the system may actually change,” she says.

Freeman came to Pittsburgh in May 1993 as a single mother from Odessa, Ukraine, fulfilling the wishes her family had for her to move to the United States.

“My entire life, the whole time, we were living with packed bags. We weren’t buying anything for our life today; everything was for the life that will be tomorrow,” she says. “My parents actually hired me an English teacher before I went to primary school. They lied to me and said if I learn English they will buy me a koala and I’ll see a kangaroo and we will go to Australia.”

She never expected to be in Ukraine when the time came to go to college, but she was. “I was sort of in denial that I would still be there.”

After considering a career in biochemistry, she decided to study Russian Language in Literature, earning her master’s degree from Odessa National University.

“You can only put your life on hold so much, so I ended up getting married at 19 and having a child. My parents left and my grandparents left and I was still there,” she says.
 


photo provided
 

After getting a divorce, she finally immigrated to the United States in 1993 in her mid-20s. Her family had moved to Pittsburgh from Brooklyn, so she joined them.

“It was a relatively easy decision and a very easy journey — and then a very harsh reality,” she says. “What does it take to get back on your feet when you come to the United States from another country?”

The U.S. was in a recession; there was little demand for her liberal arts degree. After some soul searching, she decided to become an attorney.

“Law school was extremely competitive … but I enjoyed it very much. I realized that was really where I wanted to be,” she says. While enrolled in law school, she earned a master’s degree from University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Although her family moved on to California in search of better jobs, Freeman has established roots in Pittsburgh, taking on leadership roles with the American Heart Association, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, among others. She also remarried and has another daughter and in August became partner-in-charge of the Pittsburgh office of Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, LLP, a large business-law firm based in Ohio.

“Finding someone of Ellen’s caliber and capability made the decision to expand into Pittsburgh an easy one,” says Robert Tannous, Porter Wright’s managing partner.

“I do something completely different now. Managing and the administrative work is really what fits me well,” she says.

In December, Freeman was honored with GlobalPittsburgh’s Immigrant Entrepreneur Award for Immigrant Professional Excellence. One of the judges and a board member, Francois Gau, partner with VelocityHUB, a Murrysville-based consulting firm, calls Freeman “somebody who listens, with leadership skills, who wants to help the community.”
Freeman remains dedicated to making Pittsburgh more welcoming for foreign nationals.

“Historically it’s been very closed to people like me, but there has been a tremendous change in the last five years,” Freeman says. “It’s still slow going, but maybe it’s just that I’m impatient.”

Freeman, who served on the Welcoming Pittsburgh Advisory Council to the Mayor of Pittsburgh, an initiative aimed at attracting immigrants to the region, has a list of things the city could do to help newcomers, from improving public transportation to promoting organizations such as Pennsylvania Women Work that help foreign nationals. She also believes that Pittsburgh’s strong ethnic communities could be a draw for foreign nationals.

“We just need to let these people know that they are welcome,” she says.  
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

The 400-Word Review: Green Book

Don't mistake this breezy drama for Oscar material; it's a well-acted holiday ramble, but not much more.

How Pittsburgh Chefs Spend & Prepare Their Thanksgiving

Seven Pittsburgh chefs share holiday traditions as well as tips for preparing a perfect meal.

She Spends her Holiday Singing in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

White Oak resident Jenny Joyce will join more than 100 fellow Macy’s employees on the “Singing Christmas Tree” at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

She Restores Dignity One Tattoo Removal at a Time

Bridget Miller performs free tattoo removal for former gang members and prison inmates.

PG&H Brings Locally Made Home Goods to Downtown

The yearlong pop-up shop on Smithfield Street features everything from wall coverings to furniture, all crafted by local makers.

Your Ultimate Holiday Guide to Family Fun in Pittsburgh

We found the must-do events you should put on your holiday bucket list this year.

A Chess Phenom at 4, Pittsburgh Teen is King of Queen's Gambit

Ashley Lynn Priore is teaching young Pittsburghers chess so that they can empower themselves and their communities.

A 9-year-old's Nonprofit is Still Giving Back 12 Years Later

Started by college student Conner Hagins when he was 9 years old, Cuddles for Kids strives to brighten up the lives of hospital patients with toys, treats and special events.

PM on KD: Our December "Faith" Issue

Pittsburgh Magazine editor Brian Hyslop appeared on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live to discuss our December cover story on what local faith leaders say is how best to move forward in the wake of the Tree of Life tragedy.

Meet Pitt's Soft-Spoken Professor Who Writes Crime Novels

Writer Kathleen George’s sinister mysteries have created a dark, alternate Pittsburgh. In her latest, however, the heyday of the Hill District is brought to life.

Yes, Virginia, Christmas is Preserved and Restored in Oakmont

The volunteer-run Kerr Museum offers tours on Saturdays — with a festive twist for the holidays.

Catching Up With Rivendale Farms Susanna Meyer and Neil Stauffer

The two foundational figures of Pittsburgh's sustainable farming movement blend old-school know-how with forward-thinking practices at the Washington County farm.

MultiStories: Three Times a Bust – The German National Bank

The bank was at the center of a corruption scandal which eventually led to an overhaul of Pittsburgh city government.

Matters of the Heart

In a city of eds and meds, it’s to be expected that some couples are going to meet in the medical field. We found some of the best “meet-cutes” from recent Pittsburgh weddings.

At Scene75, Be a Kid (or Bring Your Kids)

The entertainment center in Edgewood is a great time with or without little ones.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


She Spends her Holiday Singing in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

She Spends her Holiday Singing in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

White Oak resident Jenny Joyce will join more than 100 fellow Macy’s employees on the “Singing Christmas Tree” at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Comments

She Restores Dignity One Tattoo Removal at a Time

She Restores Dignity One Tattoo Removal at a Time

Bridget Miller performs free tattoo removal for former gang members and prison inmates.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
How Pittsburgh Chefs Spend & Prepare Their Thanksgiving

How Pittsburgh Chefs Spend & Prepare Their Thanksgiving

Seven Pittsburgh chefs share holiday traditions as well as tips for preparing a perfect meal.

Comments

Pittsburgh Restaurant News: Reduced Hours and a Chef Change

Pittsburgh Restaurant News: Reduced Hours and a Chef Change

Two Oakland restaurants now have shorter hours and a chef moves from Downtown to Lawrenceville.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Don’t resign yourself to the gym treadmills just yet – fall is one of the best times of the year to get outside and pound the pavement, surrounded by falling leaves and the possibility of grabbing a hot latte on the way home.

Comments

Love Sourdough? Find the Best There Is at These Five Bake Shops

Love Sourdough? Find the Best There Is at These Five Bake Shops

We dove into the local artisan bread scene to find the best places that bake naturally leavened bread in Pittsburgh.

Comments


At Scene75, Be a Kid (or Bring Your Kids)

At Scene75, Be a Kid (or Bring Your Kids)

The entertainment center in Edgewood is a great time with or without little ones.

Comments

Five Essential November Events in Pittsburgh

Five Essential November Events in Pittsburgh

Avian art, altruistic alt-rock and more November nights.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pitt Attaches Old-School Signature to Narduzzi’s Championship Prediction

Pitt Attaches Old-School Signature to Narduzzi’s Championship Prediction

Thanks to wide receivers recognized for their blocking ability and an offensive line endearingly referred to as “knuckleheads“ –– the Panthers are one win away from making their head coach's bold pre-season prediction a reality.

Comments

Steelers Have Changed the Narrative in Dramatic Fashion

Steelers Have Changed the Narrative in Dramatic Fashion

A defense that was groping to accomplish the simplest of tasks has started to dominate. The offense has stopped getting in its own way and started exploding scoreboards.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Green Book

The 400-Word Review: Green Book

Don't mistake this breezy drama for Oscar material; it's a well-acted holiday ramble, but not much more.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The 400-Word Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

While Harry Potter diehards will find more than enough sustenance in the sequel, non-devotees may have a rough time following the action.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Matters of the Heart

Matters of the Heart

In a city of eds and meds, it’s to be expected that some couples are going to meet in the medical field. We found some of the best “meet-cutes” from recent Pittsburgh weddings.

Comments

‘X’ Marks the Spot for This Wedding Scavenger Hunt

‘X’ Marks the Spot for This Wedding Scavenger Hunt

She thought she was going on a simple scavenger hunt. She never dreamed it would end with a wedding.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
PG&H Brings Locally Made Home Goods to Downtown

PG&H Brings Locally Made Home Goods to Downtown

The yearlong pop-up shop on Smithfield Street features everything from wall coverings to furniture, all crafted by local makers.

Comments

Schoolhouse Electric Brings Hip Lighting, Coffee, to Pittsburgh

Schoolhouse Electric Brings Hip Lighting, Coffee, to Pittsburgh

The Portland, Ore-based lighting and furnishings store, which shares space with a high-end coffeehouse from the team behind The Vandal restaurant, is located in East Liberty's Detective Building.

Comments