The Oath of Allegiance, the last of many steps involved in the naturalization process, is often the most memorable to a new citizen. While many immigrants are able to celebrate this milestone surrounded by loved ones, others are not able to, especially those who work in agriculture, construction and manufacturing.
Sister Ellen Lamberjack, a DOJ accredited representative with Project Hope-Proyecto Esperanza, a CLINIC affiliate in Archbold, Ohio, noticed this discrepancy when she attended her first naturalization ceremony 2007. She left the event determined to provide a way individuals naturalizing could to be honored and celebrated with their family and advocates by their side.
Traditionally, naturalization ceremonies are held during the day when most people are at work. Many work jobs where it is not easy to request time off work. To fix that problem, Sister Ellen alongside Sister Andrea, another Project Hope staff person, plan an annual reception to celebrate the new citizens every November. Members Zion Mennonite Church, where Project Hope is headquartered, and community volunteers step in to help however they can.
The attendees are welcomed by church members, special guests offer short speeches, followed by introductions of each honoree. The entire program is given in both English and Spanish so everyone who attends can understand and participate. In 2017, one of the guest speakers was a DREAMER and another was a U.S. citizen, originally from Paraguay, who spoke of her personal journey towards citizenship. A potluck concludes the event with food from the home countries of all who attend. Honorees who are unable to attend are still acknowledged and presented in the program.
“They (new U.S. citizens) come with pride – which I am glad to see,” said Sister Ellen.
This past year, Project Hope celebrated 17 new U.S. citizens originally from Mexico, Bolivia, Paraguay and China. Over the years, Project Hope has celebrated immigrants of all ages and occupations, including farmworkers, retail workers and students. The youngest honoree in 2017 was four-years-old. Sister Ellen has witnessed a growing level of comfort among church members as “they receive the new citizens so well.”
She said “[It’s] a feeling of belonging and friendliness from both sides”.
CLINIC applauds the staff and volunteers at Project Hope for their dedication to helping immigrants feel included in the community. This event brings together both newcomers and the receiving community in a fun way that celebrates a shared pride in achieving American citizenship. We look forward to seeing how this program grows in the future.