On the Road to Citizenship!

August 1, 2017

On Friday and Saturday mornings, something special takes place at the Center for New Americans. As soon as the doors open, about 100 adult students show up, eager, happy, and ready to work.  There are always lots of smiles and laughter, but the students come for some very serious work.

All of these students are refugees and immigrants who have lived in the United States for the past year or more, and now they want the opportunity to become citizens of this country where they have felt welcomed and secure, raised their families, paid taxes, and grown to love. These super dedicated students take time out of their lives, their work schedules, their families, to come and learn about U.S. history, U.S. civics, and U.S. geography.  Students learn how to read and write English and build confidence in their listening and speaking skills. They faithfully come to Citizenship class, because they all share the hope and dream of becoming a citizen themselves…some day!

Sitting alongside these students are classroom volunteers. Just like the students they help, these volunteers set aside time out of their busy weekly schedules to make a difference. Being a volunteer is an invaluable experience.  Here are a few of the benefits of being a volunteer:

  • Enjoy helping others learn
  • Give back to the community
  • Become aware of needs in the community
  • Share valuable skills and knowledge
  • Learn about new cultures
  • Help people understand American culture, history, and the English language
  • Build bridges across cultures
  • Make new friends
  • Discover and build new skills and ideas
  • Have an overall positive experience

What does it take to become a U.S. Citizen?

The U.S. naturalization process is an expensive and difficult process. Candidates for naturalization need to undergo and pass an intensive interview in English.

Candidates must then undergo an oral examination on U.S. history and government where they must listen to and correctly answer six out of ten questions that are randomly chosen from 100 possible civics, history, and geography questions. Would you pass? The USCIS has an online practice test: https://my.uscis.gov/prep/test/civics

Finally candidates are required to demonstrate their English reading and writing ability. Candidates must pass all three exams before being recommended for citizenship (naturalization).

Want to be a citizenship classroom volunteer?

Contact Kristyne.Walth@lsssd.org.

Need free citizenship classes?

You can receive free citizenship classes if you bring your green card. Call 731-2000 to schedule an enrollment appointment for the next class session.

Want help filling out the “citizenship application” or N-400?

Call 731-2000 to schedule an appointment with an immigration attorney for reduced or free rates.

Want to know more about the process of becoming a citizen?

Visit the USCIS website https://www.uscis.gov/ for details.

Written by Heather Glidewell

 


A Summer of New Experiences

August 1, 2017

Imagine for a moment some of the tasks on your to-do list this week. Chances are a lot of things on the list are “just get it done” tasks, the kind of thing you have to remember to do, but you don’t think about very much –picking up prescriptions, grabbing groceries for the week, scheduling a dental appointment for your child.

Now imagine you’ve been dropped off in a totally new country – a place where people don’t speak your language, you don’t get food at the same kind of store, and you have no idea who to call or even if you can call to make that dentist appointment. Suddenly, that “just get it done” to-do list has become full of looming, seemingly impossible tasks. Common activities are suddenly hopelessly confusing. This is the reality for many refugee families when they first arrive in the United States.

This summer I’ve had the pleasure to work with many of Sioux Falls’ refugee families through an internship at the LSS Center for New Americans. When refugees arrive in Sioux Falls, they are assigned a set of LSS case managers. These case managers have varying specialties, such as locating housing, navigating the medical system, finding employment, and enrolling children in public school.   However, I think of myself as the luckiest person working here, because, as the intern, I get to help out in all of these specialties.

Leigha Vilen

CNA Intern Leigha Vilen

As someone who has never spent much time outside the United States (I thought the move to college was a big transition!), I have been awed and inspired by the resilience of the refugee families we work with as they negotiate living within an unfamiliar culture. The role of the caseworker is primarily as a facilitator, helping to navigate the challenges created by this unfamiliarity. Our clients take this little bit of help and use it to build amazing futures: achieving new educational goals, advancing in their careers, and creating the best possible futures for their children and grandchildren.

Leigha working at her desk

Leigha working at her desk.

I owe LSS and the families I was lucky enough to work with a huge thank you for an amazing summer. I came in hoping to learn a little bit about social work and refugee resettlement, but I’m walking away with a vision of what the American Dream can look like at its best.

 

Leigha Vilen

Summer 2017 Intern, LSS Center for New Americans


A Refugee Camp in Sioux Falls?

July 18, 2017

Yes!  On June 20th, visitors to the Center for New Americans got to experience an interactive refugee camp and learn more about the journey of a refugee around the world.  The event was organized to celebrate World Refugee Day; the international observance dedicated raising awareness of the refugee situation around the world.

On this warm Tuesday lunch hour, 250 people from the Sioux Falls community walked in the footsteps of refugees – from fleeing their home country to being resettled in America.  Interactive stations were available along the way to show the realities of the refugee resettlement process.  Visitors began at the border crossing, where they were questioned as to why they fled their home country. As they gained their refugee stamp book, they learned that by the end of 2016, there were 22.5 million refugees in the world and yet less than 1% of them ever find a permanent home.

From there, the new “refugees” then made their way to a Distribution Center to get supplies for their time in a refugee camp.  Real-life former refugees told stories of their time in the camps and what conditions were truly like before the “refugees” learned about the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.  An Immigration attorney was available to answer questions as to how the immigration process happens, what kind of security clearances are required and who is approved to come to the United States.

Finally, the “refugees” had to learn about the culture of America, before they could be approved to fly overseas.  When they arrived to America, they were welcomed into LSS to see how refugees are integrated into the community and become self-sufficient.  Tours of the new LSS Campus on Eastbank, which houses the Center for New Americans, were available along with refreshments for the weary travelers.

This interactive event was co hosted by:  LSSSD, Refugee Congress, Caminando Juntos, the Multi Cultural Center, and Pax Christi.  Organizers of the event would like to extend their thanks to Mogadishu Grocery store for providing the supplies for the Distribution Center and Swamp Daddy’s Cajun Kitchen for being on site to offer food to visitors.  We would also like to say thank you to the volunteers who helped set up and participate in the event.  Finally, we would also like to say a big thank you to everyone came to the event!

Check out Keloland and KSFY for videos of the event.

 

written by Kristyne Duffy, Volunteer Coordinator, Center for New Americans


A Success Story

July 10, 2017

Nadifa

I first met Nadifa six years ago – a bright-eyed, inquisitive young girl. And today, with this blog, I am proud to introduce to you a still bright-eyed, inquisitive young lady: Nadifa, US citizen.

Born in the North African nation of Chad, Nadifa spent most of her life in Cameroon before coming to Sioux Falls with her parents, three brothers, three sisters and her grandmother. Nadifa was full of questions, she wanted to know everything, she wanted to learn everything she didn’t have the opportunity to learn back in Africa. Soon, her school enrolled her and her brother in a tutoring program to help with English and other subjects taught in American schools. I became their tutor. Nadifa’s brain was like a sponge, asking for more and more and more.

From the moment she set foot on American soil Nadifa was happy. Why? I asked her. Because, she said, everything is readily available here, we don’t have to walk for a long, long time just to pick up the bare necessities. And my whole family, we can all be together. And after 6 1/2 years in Sioux Falls, Nadifa is still happy. She values the educational opportunities available to her, as a woman, here in Sioux Falls. She graduated from high school and is continuing her education. She is studying sociology at USD, hoping to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 2020 and at the same time is working full-time as a food ambassador at Avera. She is proud of her independence – she has her own apartment, her own car and her own money – yet stays close to her family. Family, she says, is so very important, they are the best support system, they will always stick together.

After graduation, Nadifa hopes to find a job where she can help people – refugees, immigrants, actually anybody and everybody. She likes to keep busy. So, besides school and work, she volunteers at CNA as a classroom tutor, helping immigrants learn English, the first step to becoming a citizen. Was it important for her to become a citizen? Yes, definitely. I like living in the US, she says, and I feel much safer being a citizen. Going to high school here and learning about history and government helped her with preparing for the naturalization test.

And how is life different for young ladies here in the United States? She thinks that some of them take advantage of the freedom they have here. They are easily influenced by their peers and the local environment and they lose sight of their dreams and goals. She says she was raised to cover up – to cover her head and to cover her body with appropriate clothing. And she still dresses that way. In high school, she says, she was often teased by her peers, “Why don’t you upgrade to America?” But Nadifa didn’t feel the need to do that. She says, it’s important to feel comfortable with yourself, to always be yourself and do the right thing for yourself. And to never forget the value of family.

Always encourage – never criticize

Work hard and never stop dreaming

 

Written by Silke Hansen, ESL Instructor


Citizenship With a View

June 30, 2017

 

 

 

 

For more than ten years U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the National Park Service have partnered to welcome New Americans. Every year dozens of naturalization ceremonies take place in the midst of the scenic landscapes and majestic views of the country’s national parks. And South Dakota is no exception. The ceremonies at the Mount Rushmore National Monument have grown in size, from 60 new citizens in 2007 to 180 in 2017. However, depending on where in the state you live, getting to the ceremony isn’t always that easy. Often money and transportation are major issues. But this year citizenship candidates from Sioux Falls had a smooth ride. Lutheran Social Services’ Center for New Americans was able to charter a bus, made possible through a generous donation from the Daughters of the American Revolution, Mary Chilton Chapter, Sioux Falls. So, on June 15, at 3:15 AM a bus full of tired but excited citizenship candidates with family, friends and CNA staff, including myself, set out across the state to Mount Rushmore. It seemed like a quick ride. The weather was fully cooperating – sunny skies, just a little breeze. The area was bustling with activity. It felt like a mini United Nations. People from over 40 different countries were coming together in this breathtaking scenery under the ‘faces’ in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The sat down on the stone benches of the Amphi Theatre as Green Card holders – and they stood up as new citizens of the United States. They walked across the stage and told us their name, what country they came from and how incredibly proud they were to now be citizens of the United States. And we got on the bus again to start the journey home, again a bus full of tired but excited people. Only now we have a group of New American citizens in our midst.

 

Written by Silke Hansen, ESL Instructor

 


Time for a Change

April 7, 2017

Spring is in the air! This morning I saw a bird singing on the parking ramp railing, and I even dared to wear sandals and capris this week.  Everywhere I look there is green grass poking up and any trace of snow has disappeared.  It’s certainly a time for renewing and growing.

Boxes, chairs, and tables ready for the big move to East Bank

 

With that being said, LSS Center for New Americans has been very busy this week packing for our move to the Campus on East Bank. After waiting, talking, touring, and waiting some more, it seems surreal to be packing up everything and moving into our new building.  Teachers and students alike are excited about the move.  For months students have been asking about the new building, and are so very eager to start this new chapter in their lives. Many students are happy about the little things (or maybe they are the big things) that will come with the new building such as a parking lot and a nearby bus stop.  Teachers are excited to have permanent classrooms and a place to call “ours.”

 

It is of course bittersweet to be leaving the building we have occupied for the past three years. I found I was a little teary eyed on Tuesday as we held our last classes in the “old school.”  However, my students were very happy to hear that the tables, the chairs, and (most importantly) the teachers, would be moving to the new school and would be greeting them when English class starts again.

Boxes and boxes all ready to go

 

Stacks of packed boxes and empty rooms greet us now, but soon we will be unpacking again and setting up new classrooms. It is time for our new journey to begin.  So this week, we are dreaming of the changes about to come…new building, new classrooms, new experiences…and it feels quite appropriate that spring is here now.

Posted by Heather Glidewell, ESL Instructor


LSS Teacher Receives National Recognition

March 28, 2017

Our own teacher, Silke Hansen, formerly recognized as teacher of the year through the South Dakota Association for Lifelong Learning (SDALL), recently received national recognition as an outstanding instructor. Please see the Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) press release below for full details about this prestigious award.


Silke Hansen, LSS ESL Instructor

COABE Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award Runner-Up: Silke Hansen

Lutheran Social Services—Center for New Americans

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

The Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) is 15,000 members strong and growing, and provides a variety of services including annually providing competitive national-level awards, incentive grants, and scholarship opportunities through special funding provided by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

Our mission is to inspire educators so adults succeed and communities thrive. COABE exists to provide leadership, communication, professional development, and advocacy for adult education and literacy practitioners in order to advance quality services for all adult learners. Fifteen thousand members strong, one way that we engage in these activities is by spotlighting excellence in the field. Silke Hansen was nominated for COABE’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award and was selected as a runner-up.

Silke Hansen is an excellent, dedicated, and seasoned veteran teacher, having taught in adult basic education for over 11 years. Her teaching duties reach well beyond the classroom. Whenever there is a function of any kind, whether it is the annual student-teacher picnic, yearly LSS fundraiser, The Closer Connections Conference, conference presentations, or welcoming new refugees to LSS, Silke is sure to volunteer and take on considerable responsibilities. Silke’s key role among the staff might be guessed by the position of her work cubicle in the teachers’ room—it is the first cubicle seen upon entering the room, an assignment that the coordinator, Laura, admits was a conscious placement. This crucial location puts Silke where she can assist teachers and students alike who are looking for some help or advice. Silke knows where everything is stored, students’ names (past and present) and what needs to be done in almost any situation practically without fail! She has built so many strong relationships with her students, not only in their classroom endeavors, but also in the greater Sioux Falls area. She has served on the board of directors of two refugee organizations in Sioux Falls: The Khor Wakow School Project headed by South Sudan refugee and past “Lost Boy” David Jal, and the Refugee and Immigrant Women’s Association, an organization that seeks to empower refugee and immigrant women in the community and provide a networking base for its members. Together, these activities and Silke’s level of commitment reflect the kind of dedication to students that her coworkers admire and her students gratefully love. They know that Silke really cares for them as people and friends, stands with them, and will support them. During all her years at LSS, it’s clear that Silke has done whatever she could, both inside and outside the classroom to help her students find meaningful successes in their adopted country. The South Dakota state organization has seen her commitment to excellence and chose her to represent their state for the COABE Teacher of the Year Award.

 

To learn more about COABE’s prestigious award program, go to http://www.coabe.org or contact awards@coabe.org.

 

Posted by Heather Glidewell, ESL Instructor


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