August 22, 2019

Building Community In a Divided World

“For some of the immigrants who take classes in English and citizenship from Welcoming the Stranger, a nonprofit organization in the Philadelphia suburbs that has served new arrivals from more than 100 countries, the past few years have clouded the sense of welcome they felt when they first came to America.

“A lot of them said they were surprised when they first arrived that America is so diverse and has so many immigrants that nobody really cares if you are an immigrant,” says Meg Eubank, the executive director of the 20-year-old group, which operates in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, just outside the city. “But in recent years, with all of this polarization happening, people have now reported that they are worried about speaking out in public because they have an accent, or [that] someone is looking at them and treating them differently because of the way they dress and the way they look.”

The heightened political conflict over immigration has created new pressures for the organization and the families it serves. But it has also generated an outpouring of interest from community members eager to support the group’s mission of helping new arrivals transition into American life. “We have had so many more volunteers who have signed up to help,” Eubank says. “I have so many people who want to teach that I don’t have enough placement for them.” At a time of intense national division, “people want to step up and do what they can to help,” adds Lois Heist, a longtime teacher for the group.”

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