March 12, 2019

A Philly nonprofit creates community by helping its newest members—immigrants

Meet the finalists for the 2019 Renewal Awards, a program of The Atlantic and Allstate. Five winners will receive a $20,000 prize from Allstate.

Welcoming the Stranger helps immigrants and refugees learn the tools for building a new life in the U.S. Photo courtesy of the nonprofit

Editor’s note: Meet the finalists for 2019 The Renewal Awards. The annual program that honors nonprofits that are creatively solving problems in their communities is a project of The Atlantic and Allstate. This year, five winners each will receive a $20,000 prize from Allstate. Winners will be announced April 3 at The Renewal Summit in New York City. You can watch a live stream of the event, which begins at 9:30 a.m. EDT, on our Facebook page.

After nearly half a century of decline, Philadelphia has seen a population resurgence thanks in large part to immigrants. With support from organizations like the nonprofit Welcoming the Stranger, these new residents are finding the support they need to build a new life and help their community thrive.

From 2000 to 2016, Philadelphia’s foreign-born population grew by roughly 95,000, or 69 percent, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Founded in 1999, just as this recent wave of immigration started, Welcoming the Stranger has been offering free educational opportunities, such as language, citizenship, and computer classes, for immigrants and refugees.

Executive Director Meg Eubank describes what these classes can mean to someone who is new to the country, who doesn’t speak English or understand American customs. “A student once told me, rather poetically, that before taking our classes, he felt blind, mute, deaf, and paralyzed,” she said in an email. “After taking our classes, he felt like he gained all his senses again. That is what our services mean to people—regaining autonomy, dignity, and a sense of self.”

[ Read: Meet the finalists for the 2019 Renewal Awards ]

According to their website, Welcoming the Stranger has helped over 4,000 students representing 104 different countries. Relying on a robust volunteer corps, the nonprofit offers 15 to 20 classes three times a year. Classes include English as a Second Language, computer skills, and preparation for the U.S. citizenship naturalization test. Since its launch, nearly 300 students have become American citizens.

As the only full time staffer, Eubank wears every hat—from managing day-to-day operations to writing grants to teaching. As the organization and the population they serve grow, she hopes to strengthen the organization’s foundation so that it can continue to welcome new residents for many years to come.

For now, Eubank’s students keep her going. She told us about the many success stories they’ve shared, from passing their citizenship exam, to launching a new business. But it doesn’t end there. “I do not think our line of work has an end goal, but encourages human growth and lifelong learning,” she said. “Even the smallest successes achieve our goal of making a difference by empowering people to be a self sufficient, contributing member of their community.”

Follow Welcoming the Stranger on Twitter @WTSnonprofit. Donate to the nonprofit here.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.
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