Champions of Change Blog
- Posted byon September 27, 2013 at 11:20 AM EST
Abraham Alvarez is being honored as a Youth Jobs+ Champion of Change.
My story begins in spring of 2012 when I was introduced to Mayor Edwin Lee’s Summer Jobs+ program through the Future Graduates Summer Tech Internship. I applied to be a Future Grads summer intern in 2012, but I was unable to work that year due to my commitment to my college prep classes I needed to take for High School at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory. I still interviewed and met with Program leader SFPD Officer Raphael Rockwell and he remembered me from last year so when I re-applied for this summer I was lucky enough to land a summer job and to be placed at Media Relevance.
Media Relevance is a Tech startup company and my duties included customer development and understanding how both student and consumer behavior pertains to watching TV and video. In order to complete this task, I conducted interviews and created mock ups of my peers. My team was made up of three other high school interns, and we generated surveys and quizzes concerning the use of social networking and TV in order provide real world research which will translate into an “app” in the near future for Media Relevance. It was my first real-world work experience, in which I was in the office Tuesday through Thursday from 10am-5pm, and I had a great time.
Being raised by just my mother, I learned a lot about the importance of hard-work and that giving up should be the last option in all things. She also made sure that school always came first in my life. Because of the hardships and lessons I took from her, I am very appreciative to have had the opportunity to work with the Media Relevance (MR) team, and to know that my Mayor, Ed Lee, has made a pledge to help youth like me receive supportive jobs and training over the summer. The businesses that have taken us in are helping prepare others like me for what lies ahead by teaching us valuable skills and allowing us to earn some money, which I have saved most of for college.
From my time at MR I have found that I am most interested in the areas of health and how technology is making things better, specifically with eyesight care. I have worn glasses since I was three and I want to potentially become an eye doctor or surgeon or possibly even be the next creator of a product like Google Glass. I want to make a difference by helping others with disabilities like my own.
I am honored to be a White House Champion of Change for the Youth Jobs+ Program, representing San Francisco. This means a lot to me and encourages me to continue to do positive things and use my summers to do meaningful work. I plan to continue to learn from the experiences of others and develop technical skills so that when I graduate in a few years, I will know much of the advanced materials and be able to get a great job. I am already looking forward to next summer and spending this year talking about my experience with my family, classmates, and community hopefully they too will have an opportunity like this. In the meantime I am looking forward to the 10th grade, graduating with honors in a few years, and being the first in my family to attend and graduate from a university.
Abraham “Abe” Alvarez is 15 and a 10th grader attending Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco, CA. He was selected to participate in the Summer Jobs+ Program through sfciti’s Future Graduates Tech Program in a paid internship with San Francisco based Tech startup Media Relevance. Sfciti is a non-profit organization created to leverage the power of the technology community around civic action in San Francisco.
- Posted byon September 27, 2013 at 11:14 AM EST
Deshawn Shepherd is being honored as a Youth Jobs+ Champion of Change.
One evening during the summer of 2013, I received a call from my aunt telling me that she had heard of a city funded program that provided jobs to youth. I saw this as an opportunity. I had no internet access at the time so I went to my school, Olive-Harvey College, to fill out the application. I filled out a lot of job applications last spring; so many that when I received a call in June stating that I had been selected to be a part of the One Summer Chicago PLUS program, I honestly had forgotten that I applied. The One Summer Chicago PLUS program offers young males a six-week work experience and provides additional skill development and adult mentorship to develop transferable career and life skills.
When I heard back from the program, I was directed to the Phalanx Family Services office where I completed an orientation and was assigned a place to work. I was a summer intern, along with about 20 other young males, at St. Stephens Church. Our many duties included assisting with the day care run by the church, working on neighborhood beautification projects, and hosting church events including a car wash and a candy stand that taught us about entrepreneurship.
I appreciated this opportunity, and after personally getting to know my fellow co-workers, I learned that they appreciated it too. Seeing that everybody was benefiting from the program in their own way inspired me, and throughout the summer I became eager to come to work every day. Our mentors in the program, Teia Sanders and Kenneth Wiley, were a very important part of this opportunity and taught us many essential skills such as how to tie a tie. The day after we learned this, they told everybody to dress up and they held a mock job interview. That experience taught me how to perform during a real interview, of which I had the following week. Thanks to that mock interview, the real interview went well and I was offered a job at FedEx Ground.
Ultimately, I decided to focus on school for right now, and I am enrolled at Olive Harvey Community College, studying healthcare.
I am truly grateful for this experience. I learned a lot, both about myself and about the world. I will never forget my experience with the One Summer Chicago PLUS program. It will be something my family talks about for years to come!
Deshawn Shepherd is a 19-year old Chicago native from the Roseland community. DeShawn attended Thornwood High School and earned his GED from Olive Harvey College in December 2012. This past summer he participated in the One Summer Chicago PLUS job program, and worked at St. Stephens Church.
- Posted byon September 19, 2013 at 5:48 PM EST
Brenda Zion is being honored as a Champion of Change for working tirelessly to effectively integrate immigrants civically, linguistically, and socially into the fabric of their neighborhoods.
I always have admired people who can see past the status quo and hear their instincts telling them that there is something more to be realized. I find inspiration in the action that is generated from such individuals. For this and other reasons, I am grateful to be honored by the White House as a Welcoming America Champion of Change.
I have faced a tremendous learning curve through my work with OneMorgan County (OMC). I work with immigrants in my hometown which is in a rural location. I have an affinity for this land, an affection derived from the fact that my ancestors have worked this ground and have lived off this soil. There is nothing quite like the beauty of the wide open spaces of Northeast Colorado.
Along with my feelings of attachment to the community, there are challenges unique to the environment. In this setting, norms are deeply ingrained and implicit amongst long-term residents. Established community members are networked and interconnected at various levels through personal, professional and recreational associations. In my community, immigrant integration efforts are highly visible and for those who choose to get involved, it can penetrate into all aspects of life.
Despite the challenges, the effort is momentous and its importance encapsulated by OMC’s welcoming statement. The statement reads, “There are thousands of immigrants who call Morgan County home. We are all neighbors, co-workers, friends and family. OMC's work is aimed at helping to make the transitions associated with immigration more efficient so that each of us in our many roles, whether we are immigrants or receiving community members, have an increased chance of reaching our highest potential for the betterment of ourselves and for our community.” All of OMC’s programs are aimed at immigrant self-sufficiency and community relationships.
My work has provided me with certain insights. I have written a narrative titled “Embracing Immigrant Integration” in which I share some considerations as to why this can be complicated work. I also suggest a few ideas for formulating a community-based immigrant integration strategy. No matter if our projects are broadly-based or narrowly-focused to help immigrants build specific skills, our hope is to help our community residents overcome their confining and inhibiting feelings. Along the way, I have seen the fulfillment and excitement again and again when an unlikely relationship is built; when a resident learns a new skill or evolves a new perspective; and when a newcomer feels a sense of belonging and a moment of success. With each of those our community assumes its potential.
In the end, all those unlikely connections are not as unlikely as they once seemed. In the end, they help to heal by revealing the void that was present. In the end, they help us flourish. In the end, they are brilliantly natural.
Brenda Zion is the Executive Director at OneMorgan County, an immigrant integration focused, award-winning nonprofit organization serving Morgan County, Colorado and the surrounding area.
- Posted byon September 19, 2013 at 3:13 PM EST
Adolfo Hernandez is being honored as a Champion of Change for working tirelessly to effectively integrate immigrants civically, linguistically, and socially into the fabric of their neighborhoods.
Growing up in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, a Mexican immigrant community on the city’s southwest side, I recall the number of family-owned businesses lining the streets on my walk to and from school --everything from restaurants and grocery stores to hair salons and dress shops. It never occurred to me then that this business corridor known as “la veintiseis” or 26th Street was one of the highest revenue generating business corridors in the city, often referred to by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the city’s second Magnificent Mile.
Much like “la veintiseis”, immigrant business corridors around the city have always served as economic engines for neighborhoods and the city as a whole. Immigrants in Chicago and across the country are twice as likely as U.S. born individuals to start a small business and are more likely to hire locally. Small businesses are the backbone of our local economy. With a strong history of immigration and one in five Chicagoans being foreign born, we support immigrant integration because it is part of our values and because it creates economic value for our city.
In 2011 I was appointed by Mayor Emanuel to serve as the Director of Chicago’s Office of New Americans. The Office of New Americans was created by Mayor Emanuel to make Chicago the most immigrant friendly city in the country by better leveraging the contributions of immigrants through enhanced collaboration between city government, community organizations, academic and faith based institutions, and the private sector. Each of these sectors plays a vital role in welcoming immigrants and helping them successfully integrate.
With more than 140 countries represented and over 100 languages spoken in our city, Chicago is a global city with strong connections to the rest of the world, making it an attractive destination for immigrants. Immigrants arrive with varying professional skill levels, language abilities, and financial means, but they all arrive with the hope of achieving the American dream. The Office of New Americans has worked to help immigrants of all backgrounds integrate and become meaningful contributors to our civic, cultural and economic life.
In Chicago we have launched language accessible business expos in community settings on how to start a small business, navigate the licensing process, comply with tax laws, and interact with chambers of commerce. Through a partnership between Chicago Public Libraries, United States Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS), and community based organizations we launched the Chicago New Americans Initiative offering naturalization assistance in 27 neighborhood libraries. We are conducting training with Chicago Public School counselors to provide Chicago’s DREAMers and their families with tailored support so students can excel in the classroom and obtain guidance in applying to a college or university; ensuring that our undocumented students have the information they need to achieve a higher education, access financial resources and seek a bright future.
Immigrants remain crucial drivers of our city’s economic growth and cultural vitality. While other cities may work to make themselves less welcoming toward immigrants, we choose to value their contributions, recognizing the importance of immigrants to Chicago’s future.
Adolfo Hernandez serves as the Director of Chicago’s Office of New Americans (ONA). Under his leadership the ONA has launched the New Americans Small Business Series, the Chicago New Americans Initiative.
- Posted byon September 19, 2013 at 3:07 PM EST
Tom Wahlrab is being honored as a Champion of Change for working tirelessly to effectively integrate immigrants civically, linguistically, and socially into the fabric of their neighborhoods.
Welcome Dayton is a community effort to establish our city as a place friendly for immigrants. In recognizing our rich history as a city and country built in part on the contributions of people arriving from every continent, we choose to recognize and appreciate the wealth of perspective and experience offered by our diverse population. After years of practice in transformative mediation with individuals in conflict, I realized the great possibility of orchestrating a similar practice on a community and policy level. As such, the process to create Welcome Dayton was informed by the principals of transformative mediation and continues to be a collaborative practice to surface the vast resources abundant in Dayton’s residents and recent immigrants.
Dayton received national attention when we enacted this immigrant friendly initiative. Welcome Dayton consists of two parts – the initial plan, and the many initiatives that continue to emerge as part of the “welcoming” vision. The initial plan was created and formalized through community conversations that explored the question, “What is possible if Dayton became a city that intentionally welcomed immigrants?” The participants self-organized and wrote, in 90 days, a plan that was unanimously endorsed by the City Commission.
This process was rooted in years of experience at the Dayton Mediation Center where it was apparent that community dialogue and local actions can create long-lasting change. Recognizing the power of community dialogue, the Dayton Human Relations Council (HRC), of which I was director at the time, initiated this bold and innovative dialogue engaging the community and enacting public policy that formed Welcome Dayton. On a local level, Welcome Dayton challenged the popular sentiment for and public policy on immigration, demonstrating our capacity to engage in a deliberative dialogue on issues of immigration.
Tom Wahlrab, chair of Dayton’s Immigrant Friendly Core Team, is the former Executive Director of the City of Dayton (Ohio) Human Relations Council and the Dayton Mediation Center.
- Posted byon September 19, 2013 at 3:01 PM EST
Kasar S. Abdullah is being honored as a Champion of Change for working tirelessly to effectively integrate immigrants civically, linguistically, and socially into the fabric of their neighborhoods.
Since the 1990’s, Nashville has become a new destination for many immigrants and refugees like myself. As cities and towns experience a demographic shift, some long-time residents have expressed unease and confusion, even fear, resulting in additional obstacles for new arrivals to integrate. In 2006, a group of concerned Tennesseans from different walks of life—business, faith, education, and government—came together for the purpose of intentionally building communities that are more welcoming for new arrivals. The Welcoming Tennessee Initiative is a project run by the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), which is founded on the notion that immigrant integration is a two-way process: as immigrants become more engaged and active citizens, members of receiving communities expand their own sense of identity to make room for their newest neighbors.
I have addressed the unique social conflicts facing our community for many years, and my own story reflects the struggles of many New Americans to integrate. I fled my ancestral home of Kurdistan at the age of six in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s attacks, and spent my childhood in a refugee camp in Turkey. Living in the U.S. as an American Muslim leaves me little choice but to engage others in dialogue about global migration and the rising tensions of religious conflict in my new home. Every day, I am more motivated to find ways for New Americans to fully integrate into the civic life of the broader community, and for receiving community members to better understand why people leave the land of their birth and travel to places like Tennessee. I gain my strength from my faith, my two amazing little girls, a compassionate husband, and the wonderful Tennesseans who strive to know their neighbors and are eager to build strong, integrated communities.
While immigration is not new to Tennessee, each new arrival brings her own unique immigration story. Through my years of leadership and service with TIRRC, I’ve worked with receiving community members to address issues related to immigration and faith through public dialogues, over shared holiday meals from Thanksgiving to Ramadan to Seder, and sometimes by a discussion over some good iced tea. I personally believe that if the human mind continues to be unengaged and remains in a state of ignorance, ignorance has the potential to lead to fear, and fear too often leads to hate. Once hate infiltrates a society, it paralyzes the mind and heart, resulting in the escalation of unbearable social conflicts and violence, as we have witnessed in cultural and religious clashes in Tennessee from burnings of mosques to deportations of families.
Welcoming Tennessee attempts to redress some of the complex issues faced by immigrants in Tennessee, dealing directly with the tensions between US-born Americans and new Americans of every ethnicity, including, but not limited to, Kurdish, Hispanic, Laotian, Ethiopian, and Somali. I firmly believe that a vigorous democracy is defined by the participation of its entire citizenry, working collectively with diverse opinions, to affect the processes that impact our everyday lives. In order for this to happen, our communities must prioritize integration, and recognize it as the foundation of a strong community.
Having had to go through the immigration system myself, I understand the obstacles of integration, the struggles of maintaining an identity, and the imperfections of our immigration system. In addition, I understand well the deep gap between refugee resettlement and adjustment. Today, I’m proud that the successful efforts in Tennessee have led to amazing work that is being replicated all over the US. My hope is that one day the United States will take the lead on integration in our diverse global society.
Kasar S. Abdulla, Former Director of Welcoming Tennessee Initiative (a project of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition)
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