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First New York City Mega Citizenship Drive Held at the Bronx Zoo

June 25, 2018

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On May 20, 2018 New Americans Campaign partners from New York and New Jersey held their very first mega workshop at the Bronx Zoo.

Volunteers and staff help applicants complete their naturalization applications at the Bronx Zoo (Photo Credit: Gail Ablow)

Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights (NMCIR) was the lead organizer of the event that was co-hosted by 11 New Americans Campaign partners. “The Bronx is the new Ellis Island for New York City,” said Angela Fernandez, NMCIR Executive Director, “so we really wanted to hold the event in the Bronx.”

The New Americans Campaign partners originally considered locating the mega-drive at Yankee Stadium, but the zoo was much more receptive. “It is really important to find a location where, from the get-go, the hosting location sees itself as a partner,” said Fernandez. When she contacted the Bronx Zoo, where she has a longstanding relationship, the organization responded with an enthusiastic yes “in less than 30 seconds,” she said. In addition to generously offering a free location, the zoo offered free tickets to the zoo for each workshop participant and a guest.

Caption: Staff and volunteers from the New Americans Campaign partner organizations pose with the stone lion. Angela Fernandez is the furthest to the right and Maria Garcia-Singros is just to the left. (Photo Credit: Roberto Frugone)

The zoo venue was confirmed in January, which gave the collaboration of local partners just four months to prepare hundreds of volunteers to provide 315 lawful permanent residents with valuable citizenship application assistance. Partners also organized a press conference with some dazzle provided by Genesis Suero, the reigning Miss New York USA who is a naturalized citizen as well as a NMCIR volunteer.

Almost 300 attendees lined up to receive services at the event (Photo Credit: Gail Ablow)

“We all had some doubts about the feasibility of organizing such a large event because everyone was already extremely busy,” said Maria Fernanda Garcia-Syngros, NMCIR Citizenship Coordinator, “but we had a lot of engaged, team players and an amazing level of commitment.” It was fitting that many of the volunteers posed with the resident stone lion — a symbol of the strength, courage and heart that was evident throughout the event.

The New York and New Jersey New Americans Campaign partners are already thinking ahead to next year. Below are some of the facts and figures about the event. They are also happy to share their experience with anyone planning their own mega drive.

The NYC-NJ Mega-Naturalization Drive By The Numbers:

  • 11: The number of New Americans Campaign organizations participating, divided up into 7 different teams.
  • 315: The number of attendees who received services, almost half of whom were walk-ins.
  • 350: The number individuals who expressed interest but could not attend the event. The New Americans Campaign partners plan to contact these applicants to offer future assistance.
  • 250: The number of volunteers who participated: 32 lawyers, 10 accredited representatives and paralegals, 10 law students, 70 trained application completion volunteers, 128 non-legal volunteers.
  • $17,500: The hard cost of the event (insurance, transportation and food for volunteers, T-shirts, printed materials, tables, copy machines, printers, and supplies).