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


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


Adult English Learners from Fourteen Nations Visit the South Dakota Capital

March 22, 2017

Students and government officials pose for picture inside the capital building


53 adult English language learners from the LSS Center for New Americans had the privilege of visiting South Dakota’s capitol this month. This is such an exciting opportunity for our students that we received 100 applications for these 53 seats.

These 53 learners are from 14 different countries: Burma, Guatemala, China, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Bhutan/Nepal, South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Mexico and El Salvador.

About 60% of these LSS adult learners came to the US with refugee status. About 40% came as immigrants.

The goals of these learners are:

  • To become self sufficient communicators in English
  • To get jobs and advance to higher education and training
  • To become United States Citizens


This civics education field trip was sponsored by the Department of Labor and Regulation. The Department partners with the LSS Center for New Americans to provide adult education and literacy services in the Sioux Falls community.

The learners visited with legislators, toured the capital building, observed proceedings in the house and senate chambers and visited the Cultural Heritage Center.

On the Steps of the South Dakota Capital Building


Touring the Cultural Heritage Center

Having fled the impacts of persecution and injustice, the adult learners deeply treasure the freedoms and democracy of this great nation and the great state of South Dakota. It is, in fact, a dream come true for them to visit our state capitol. They are grateful to be residents of South Dakota, to have the opportunity to raise their families, work and contribute to a safe and welcoming new home.

written by Laura Smith-Hill, Education Program Coordinator

Everybody Has a Story

December 5, 2016


konnichiwa ~ al salaam a’alaykum ~ mydokumbay ~ tibuy ~  preevyit ~  jambo ~ni hao ~ hola ~ dananish ~ salamnish ~ bonjeur ~ chào bạn ~ mbote ~ yambu ~ habari ~ is ka warren ~ sampurasun ~ min-ga-la-ba ~  sannu

Every day I hear “Hello” in a dozen or more different languages because I have the privilege and honor to work with many students from many different countries. One of the questions I get asked the most is, “Where do your students come from?”  This is a very difficult question to answer because my students don’t just come from a “place,” but they come from a story, they come from a dream, and they are still working towards that dream.

To help answer this question, some of my lit 3 students wrote about their “stories.”


Our Stories

I’m from Bhutan. My job in my country was a farmer.  I feel my country is small but beautiful.  The government is not good, but the country is a beautiful place!  My country has fighting.

I came to America for safety and freedom. I came to America by plane.  I left the refugee camp three years [ago].  I went to first Idaho.  I bought a ticket and went to Sioux Falls.

I will go to learn English before I get a job. My dream is to get citizenship.  I felt nervous [when I first came to America].  I feel good now.  I like best [that] my life is safe.


I’m from Ethiopia. I like Ethiopia, but there are problems.  I lived in my country for 19 years.  I had family in America.  I came to America on Oct. 2, 2013.  I came on a plane.  I came with one family member.

I left my country two years ago. I came first to Washington, D.C. and I flew to Sioux Falls.  I came to Sioux Falls by plane.

In America I will get a job. My dream is I will be happy.  At first I felt not good in America.  Now I feel good.  I like people because they are nice.  I like my job.


I am from Guatemala. A friend drove me to America.  I don’t like to live in Guatemala because too much fighting.

[Now in America] I want to help my family. I want to build my house.  I was so sad [when I first came to America].  I am happy [now] because I live with my brothers.  I like work.  I like Inglish class. Inglish is important in America.


As we prepare for this holiday season, let us remember our own roots. We are the great-grandsons and grand-daughters of hopes and dreams.  We are the products of determination and hard work.  Today’s refugees and immigrants are full of the same hopes and dreams, the same determination to live a better, safer life.


Written by Heather Glidewell, ESL Instructor

LSS is Awarded USCIS Citizenship and Integration Grant

November 3, 2016
Canab and Paulina Became US Citizens This Year Through the USCIS Grant

Canab and Paulina became US Citizens this year through the USCIS Grant

The LSS Center for New Americans program was one of more than 160 applicants for the 2016 USCIS Citizenship and Integration Grant which provides Citizenship instruction and naturalization application assistance at free and reduced rates.

The LSS Center for New Americans was one of the 46 elite programs to obtain this very competitive grant and has had a track record for maintaining high-quality education and naturalization services for three previous grant cycles.

What does this mean to immigrants in South Dakota?

  • Free Citizenship Classes at three levels of instruction: Citizenship Class 1, 2 and 3.

When students successfully complete Citizenship Class 3 they are ready to pass the rigors of the naturalization interview. These classes are for any legal permanent residents (Green Card holders) in the community. This grant also provides classes for immigrants living in Huron and Aberdeen.

  • Reduced rates for attorney assistance in the naturalization process, or as we like to tell our clients, “Citizenship on Sale!”

For only $50 a legal permanent resident with five years of residence in the USA will have the assistance of an attorney to complete the N-400 naturalization application. Applicants who meet low-income guidelines will receive attorney assistance for free and a fee waiver for the federal application fee. The immigration attorneys take appointments in Sioux Falls, Huron and Aberdeen.

This grant serves about 200 legal permanent residents each year in Citizenship Classes and about 300 per year with naturalization services.

Any legal permanent resident interested in classes or application help can call 731-2000 to make an appointment.


LSS Citizenship and Civics students learn about American systems of government in South Dakota’s Capitol

What’s Your Superpower?

May 18, 2016

I’m a Volunteer… What’s your superpower? That’s what the Helpline Center asked last Thursday, May 12th during the 2016 Spirit of Volunteerism Awards luncheon.  The annual event celebrates those individuals in the community who share their superpower and help others by volunteering.  One outstanding volunteer that we want to give a special congratulation to is Eric Rippentrop.  Eric was named the First National Bank in Sioux Falls Spirit of Volunteerism Up and Coming Award winner in the Adult category at the luncheon on Thursday for his work at LSS Center for New Americans.  Winners of the Spirit of Volunteerism Awards received a special award plague and received $500 to be awarded to a non-profit or charitable organization of their choice.

Showing off his superpower at the 2016 Spirit of Volunteerism Awards luncheon.

Showing off his superpowers with Instructor Diana Calvetti-Streleck and Volunteer Coordinator Kristyne Walth at the 2016 Spirit of Volunteerism Awards luncheon.

Eric is a regular face in the Center for New American’s Citizenship classrooms every Friday and Saturday morning. You may also remember him from our blog back in February.   He has spent over 100 hours over the last year helping students acquire the English fluency and knowledge that is required for a citizenship interview and test.  Instructor Diana Calvetti-Streleck says that, “Without Eric’s help in the classroom, my group of more than 35 low-level English learners would not receive the one-on-one practice they need to overcome their anxiety of speaking English to answer oral questions.”  Eric has been a wonderful volunteer and we cannot thank him enough for his time, energy and encouraging words.

Eric with his award.

Eric with his award.

However, if you asked Eric, he would tell you that he feels that he “gets more from volunteering than he could ever hope to give.” And in an effort to give more, he has chosen LSS Center for New Americans as the non-profit organization to receive the $500 award.


Please help us congratulate and better yet, thank Eric and all of the other winners, nominees, and volunteers in the Sioux Empire for sharing their superpower to help others. And lastly, we ask you too, what’s your superpower?


Written by Kristyne Walth, Volunteer Coordinator

Proud to Be A Citizen

October 28, 2015

Last week you met Janice Godtland, an immigration attorney at the Center for New Americans. Today I will share the story of one of the many individuals she has helped to become a U.S. Citizen. Matuda Agaba is a 63 year-old former refugee from the African nation of Eritrea.  She came to the United States 8 years ago after spending nearly a decade in a refugee camp. Originally, she was resettled in Las Vegas, Nevada but decided to come to Sioux Falls 6 years ago to be closer to her daughter.

Matuda began the process to citizenship nearly a year and a half ago. She first met with Janice to complete the initial 21 page application, take pictures, and pay the fees required to apply. Then she eagerly waited for the letter to come in the mail telling her the dates of her appointments with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. At her first appointment she was fingerprinted and completed a full background check. After passing the background check, her second appointment was made and consisted of an in-depth personal interview with an Immigration Officer. Like many refugees, Matuda attended Citizenship preparation classes at the LSS Center for New Americans in order to prepare for the interview. During this interview, the officer asked Matuda to detail her life here in America, her life in Eritrea, and her experiences in the refugee camp. The officer also tested Matuda’s knowledge of the U.S. and history.

Matuda Agaba during the Oath Ceremony.

Matuda Agaba during the Oath Ceremony

The final step for Matuda was the Naturalization Oath Ceremony. Matuda, along with 40 others, officially became a United States citizen on Friday, September 11th at 2:30 pm. During the ceremony, many speakers stood up and spoke about the significance of being a U.S. Citizen. To the delight of most of those present, President Obama even appeared on the room’s television with a prerecorded message to celebrate their citizenship. Each person also got to the opportunity to pose with the judge and record their first moments of being a U.S. citizen. Matuda said this was one of her favorite moments of the day.

Finally, after all of the pictures with friends and family, Matuda did something she has wanted to do for most of her life—she registered to vote. Matuda has never had the opportunity to vote. When Eritrea gained its independence in 1993, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front seized control and established a one-party state and banned any further political activity. There have been no elections since. Though excited to vote at the next election, Matuda is nervous because, “I’ve never voted before and it’s hard to know what each candidate stands for.”

Please help us welcome Matuda Agaba as a brand new U.S. Citizen!

Matuda Agaba

Matuda Agaba as a brand new citizen


Kristyne Walth, Volunteer Coordinator

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