The past six months have been an incredible whirlwind through hundreds of citizenship journeys during an insecure time in immigration. To say that my service has been relevant and meaningful would be an understatement. My first day in our small office in the heart of Boston, I walked out in astonishment, stunned by the busyness of the day. I hit the ground running, answering phones, screening clients and scheduling appointments. Coming into this position, I had wanted to be busy, to work hard, and to gain direct client contact. All of these points were met within the first few hours of my service. I have developed new skills and improved existing ones, and as a result, I have a deeper sense of confidence. That first day, my hand shook with nerves as I made my first call, but now I can answer the phone with full confidence in my ability to assist the client with whatever question she or he might have.
The citizenship process is incredibly intricate, requiring a 20-page form in “legalese” and $725 fee. Project Citizenship works to remove barriers to citizenship, including access to information, high costs, and complicated paperwork. My role as an AmeriCorps member puts me at the front lines. I answer phones, assist in case management, and enter data we get on our clients as they move through the process. Many times, clients recognize my voice at workshops or my face when they come to visit our office. The kindness and warmth so many immigrants bring to our office is contagious. I am honored to be able to come to my program site everyday knowing that a few hours of my time can completely change the life of someone starting a citizenship journey. I knew from my first day that I have chosen an important and meaningful sector. I get to speak with people from all over the world on a daily basis, enabling me to learn about new cultures and gain respect for different perspectives and social situations. Serving at Project Citizenship has taught me to be confident, patient, open minded and nonjudgmental – lessons I will carry with me back to my small, rural hometown in Wisconsin and throughout my life.
Serving at an immigration organization at a time when our president works to exclude certain immigrants has been difficult, but also incredibly heartening at times. Since the election, Project Citizenship has seen a surge in calls from people newly motivated to gain the full benefits and protections of U.S. citizenship, the only guarantee against deportation. We have also seen a massive influx of people who want to volunteer, donate or otherwise help our organization expand our reach in any way they can. The volunteer inquiries came so fast, our small staff could barely keep up with them all. It truly has meant a lot to me to be surrounded by so many people eager to help welcome immigrants who have already called the U.S. home for the most recent years become citizens. This message of openness and welcome along with hearing from immigrants who want to become citizens because they love this country and want to call it home forever, has motivated me to keep going.
Serving as an AmeriCorps member at an organization solely focused on the citizenship process has further motivated me to want to take on more challenges and case management. When clients call about green cards, visas or other issues, I happily offer them a referral but often wish I could follow their cases and do more to help. This experience has, in part, motivated me to join a fulltime MSW program at Boston College starting in fall of 2017. I can’t wait to finish my service year with AmeriCorps and take all of my lessons and newly acquired skills with me to graduate school. Most of all, I will carry the immigrant stories I have heard with me. Stories of fear and stories of hope, all about people who love this country and belong here.