“People feel different when they become a citizen. They have more rights and privileges in the community, and we see that they engage differently,” says Raquel Garcia Andersen, the director of partnerships and community outreach at Global Detroit.
To promote the benefits of citizenship and assist candidates in navigating the path to becoming citizens, Global Detroit and its Cultural Ambassadors Program have forged a new relationship with the Detroit partners of the New Americans Campaign by creating the Citizenship Ambassador Program.
Metropolitan Detroit communities are extremely diverse and spread throughout a large geographical area—nearly 2,000 square miles. Because there are few concentrated areas of lawful permanent residents (LPRs), outreach to LPR communities can be a challenge. This is where the Citizenship Ambassador Program helps.
“In my years of experience with the NAC I’ve seen what works well: massive outreach through various locations in the immigrant community,” says Wojciech Zolnowski, executive director of the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit and site leader for the Detroit NAC. “Those places are where immigrants live, worship, work and go to school. The Citizenship Ambassador Program helps us achieve greater outreach to these communities.”
The program launched at the end of January. Volunteers can:
- Promote citizenship in the community. Ambassadors spread the word about the benefits of citizenship and the resources available to help.
- Volunteer at workshops or other events. Volunteers sign up to assist with registration, logistics, intake or interpretation.
- Assist candidates in completing applications. Once training is completed, volunteers can help candidates complete their citizenship applications at workshops or Detroit NAC offices.
- Participate in test preparation. Ambassadors can assist candidates with studying, English skills and mock interviews.
On Feb. 28 the Detroit NAC hosted a citizenship workshop and welcomed volunteers from the new program. Raquel Garcia Andersen was one of them.
“I volunteered to welcome people to the workshop,” Raquel says. “I always enjoy listening to the stories of the families. You never get a repeat. It’s always unique and full of surprises.”
For Raquel, volunteering is also a way to develop a deeper understanding of other cultures. She believes people are less likely to stereotype when they’ve met people different from themselves.
Her goal is to bring friends and family along to future events. So far she has recruited four volunteers from her personal network.
Raquel is passionate about volunteering to help with citizenship for another reason.
“I’ve known 3 LPRs who were deported,” she says. “They didn’t think it was important to become a citizen, and then something happened and their status was revoked. It was shocking for me. People think that once you’re an LPR you’re safe. And that’s not always true.”
That Saturday, 20 LPRs sought assistance from the Detroit NAC and its cadre of 10 volunteers, half of whom came through the Citizenship Ambassador Program. All 20 of those clients also signed up to volunteer with the program.
“They all signed up for outreach work and to volunteer other assistance,” says Wojciech. “All 20 of them became ambassadors and that really adds value to the whole program.”
The new program and partnership amplify the support available to people eligible for citizenship. Such collaborations are cornerstones of the New Americans Campaign’s innovative work.