Laura Smith-Hill, the director of the Education Program here at LSS, recently shared with me two inspiring stories from our students enrolled in Citizenship Class, and I’d like to share them with you.
Laura speaks of a middle-aged woman from China who has lived in the U.S. for about 20 years. Laura explains, “She opens and closes her department at work, putting in 12-hour days. She is a star worker for her employer, and might have been promoted to manager, but her literacy and computer skills were lacking. At the end of the day, she comes home and scoops her sidewalks. On her day off, she exercises because she knows she needs to be strong.”
And the story continues, “She lives alone and emphasized, ‘I try to do everything myself, because I have to pull myself up.’ She didn’t seem to know the rest of the American idiom, ‘… by her own bootstraps,’ but I knew what she meant. She takes great pride in her son, who finished college and is working in New York City. He told her, ‘Mom, you can’t go back to China. This is your home. You have to become a citizen.’ She echoed to me, ‘I love America; I need to stay in this country.’ So on her days off, she comes to our Saturday Citizenship Class to learn to read and write for civic engagement and in order to become a U.S. citizen.”
Laura said this woman reminds her of “how hard all our ancestors had to work to make their way as first generation immigrants in our ‘land of opportunity.’ That opportunity doesn’t come easily to any first generation immigrant; they work hard for it to pave the way for their children and their children’s children.”
Yet another student Laura speaks of is a young man from Iraq who successfully completed the education program here at LSS, received his high school diploma and finished his job training. Today he speaks excellent English and works in one of South Dakota’s high-demand occupations – welding.
As he copes with daily worries for the safety of his parents and siblings back home, he hopes to become a U.S. citizen so he can bring his family to the U.S. for refuge.
Laura explained, “This man finds freedom of religion in the U.S. that his family can only dream of. He believes his purpose in life is to help other people. He shared with me that he didn’t know how he could be a help to people here in America. When I told him about volunteer opportunities at our center and how he could apply to mentor other families who are new to America, he decided to put in his application. The next time I saw him, he walked into the lobby and said, ‘Ahh, LSS is my home.’ He explained that LSS was the first place he came when he arrived in America and everyone here helped him start a new life.”
Laura said these two students are indicative of the immigrants she meets and works with on a daily basis.
“These two clients are gracious, thoughtful, generous. They are unafraid of hard-work and strive for the good of their families. They are ready to help people around them who are in need. They are stronger for the barriers they face and barriers they have already overcome. They are much like you and me. These qualities are a part of what makes our nation great,” Laura explained.
It is easy to hear the news on TV and the radio and feel afraid of newcomers. But what we see here at LSS, where we work daily with immigrants and refugees, is nothing like what one might hear in the news. What we experience here belies the news coverage. What we experience here are individuals with individual stories and experiences that would make any American with a history of immigration proud, and, of course, that is almost every American. : )
I personally find it a true privilege to work with these newcomers. If you, too, want to be inspired by their perseverance, hard work, generosity, and kindness, we are always welcoming new volunteers. We can use you in English, job training, and Citizenship classes. Your choice. Contact Kristyne Walth at 731-2009 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how you can join our volunteer program.
Have an inspirational day! : )
Posted by Julie Boutwell-Peterson