February 4th: Excitement, Significance and Importance

January 31, 2012
Lucy Smith, AmeriCorps Fellow

What a powerful week this has been! From Elgin to Naperville and from Chicago to DeKalb, the word about the Illinois Immigrant Integration Summit is spreading! But more importantly, learning about each other’s shared desires to support our immigrant neighbors both politically and socially has been quite moving.

On Tuesday a 40 drive north to Joliet I was fortunate to meet with Rev. Michael Mann, a champion in outreach to immigrants and an advocate of citizenship. Learning about his work and discovering that there is a small legal clinic in Aurora just down the street from where I live called Justice for Our Neighbors. I can’t wait to get in contact with them and see how they can partner with Family Focus’s Immigration Services Department. While still in Elgin I was able to meet with Centro de Informacion, who partners with Family Focus through NAI and joint Citizenship Workshops. On such short notice they were highly receptive and kind, welcoming into their facility and sharing their 40 year long history with me. Neither will be able to attend the Summit, but I am highly looking forward to joint collaboration in order to serve our immigrant neighbors better!

Wednesday night proved highly enlightening as I attended St. Thomas’s Social Justice and Outreach meeting. What a thoughtful, intentional group of committed citizens! They have advocated for fair treatment of immigrants on a number of levels and continually educate their own congregation with movie nights and public events. Sister Lisa Polega of the Diocese of Joliet also gave some moving stories regarding the proposed detention center in Crete and her involvement in other detention centers. I was more than happy to share information about Family Focus, Uniting America, and Citizenship Workshops, one of which will be hosted at St. Thomas in April! While they are unable to attend the upcoming Summit on February 4th due to a time conflict, we will be sure to follow up and share and relevant information gained from either of our events.

Meeting with Sherry Woodward of the Adult Education Program at Waubonsee Community College was absolutely phenomenal. Their new space at the downtown Aurora campus is splendid and hearing so many personal stories from students and volunteers was a real treat. I can’t wait to pass along more names of potential volunteers and students to her as I know that they will be in good hands! Sherry also helped me to get out the word about the Illinois Immigrant Integration Summit to the Aurora Campus and I am infinitely grateful for her help; there is so much to learn when moving to a new community!

Best of all was meeting with the Western Suburbs Immigrant Welcoming Congregations. Local religious leaders and some congregation members met under the direction of Jenny Dale, a representative from Chicago New Sanctuary. With this oversight we were really able to paint a picture of immigrants in relation to spiritual communities and what congregations could do to make a difference. I couldn’t think of a better place to share the mission of Uniting America or the Immigrant Integration Summit. Some members talked of excited church goers that didn’t have direction, others talked of church members who didn’t want to have anything to do with immigration, and still others were working on innovative projects or pressing issues. Overall though it is the issues that drive us; events aside, we are all trying to work towards the same goal for immigrants: to make our home their home.