Students lend a hand to the Citizenship Project
March 4, 2010 By Leigh Ivey
last Saturday in the Campus Center's Ewen Room, where they
assisted candidates for United States citizenship with the
Senior Courtney Sidwell, a Centre intern at Maxwell Street Legal
Clinic, was on-hand to answer any questions that applicants had.
On Saturday, Feb. 28, 22 Centre College students spent their day quite patriotically.
From 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., the students assisted with the first workshop of The Citizenship Project, which is designed to help individuals hoping to become United States citizens.
Partnering with the Maxwell Street Legal Clinic in Lexington, Centre hosted the free workshop, during which Centre volunteers assisted candidates for citizenship with the application process.
The partnership between Centre and Maxwell Street began last October, when representatives from the clinic visited the College for a convocation.
“Cori Hash, Maxwell Street’s full-time attorney, and Zach Shultz, who coordinates their citizenship classes, came to Centre and showed the film Sin Nombre, which is about the lives of undocumented immigrants coming to the U.S.,” says Kerri Howard, AmeriCorp VISTA Community-Based Learning Coordinator. “At the convo, they also talked about the work they do helping new arrivals in this country negotiate our legal system.”
At a dinner before the convocation, Hash, Shultz and several Centre community members began discussing how holding citizenship classes in Danville could help Maxwell Street expand the reach of their services.
“We also thought a citizenship workshop would be a great community-based learning activity for Spanish students or other language students,” Howard says. “So The Citizenship Project grew out of that.”
Courtney Sidwell ’10 of Monticello, Ky., who is interning this spring term at Maxwell Street and played a significant role in the organization of the Project, says she was delighted by the level of interest students and faculty showed for the project.
“When professors told me they would be sending volunteers, or when a student told me they’d be coming, it made me feel like this project was already a success,” she says. “Even those who couldn’t come out to help are interested in what we’re doing.”
The goal of the first Citizenship Project workshop was to help candidates begin the application process and get all forms submitted.
Inside the Ewen Room of the new Campus Center, the Centre volunteers (along with Cori Hash) discussed the naturalization process with candidates before helping them file their applications.
“The first workshop went really well,” Howard says. “We had 23 volunteers there, 22 students and one adult. Ten people went through the application process, and by the end of the day, the candidates had either finished their applications or only had to go home to look up some information before they mailed them off. And two or three other people stopped by with other immigration-related questions but weren’t there to apply.”
Because candidates for citizenship also have to complete exams and interviews before becoming naturalized, The Citizenship Project will soon hold a second workshop in which volunteers will prepare candidates for these final steps of the citizenship process.
After seeing the success of the first workshop, Howard, Sidwell and the rest of the Centre community are looking forward to the event—and are grateful to have had their eyes opened by the first.
“Learning about the process of naturalization has really made me realize how lucky I am to be a U.S. citizen,” Sidwell says. “We’re all aware of many of the freedoms U.S. citizens have, especially those such as the right to free speech or freedom of religion. But it’s easier to forget the ones we don’t learn about in the Bill of Rights.
“For example,” she continues, “as citizens we can travel as much as we want, as often as we want, for as long as we want, and at the end of all that, we’re still able to come home without a care. Even for legal permanent residents, it’s not that easy. The Citizenship Project has really opened my eyes, because I wasn’t even aware just how blessed I am to have these privileges.”
And with the devotion and passion for service that characterizes many Centre students, those working with The Citizenship Project are dedicated to helping other individuals gain the rights that they themselves enjoy.