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.