I am deeply honored to have been elected last week as Vice Chair of The Welcome Project, a Somerville non-profit I have worked with for many years.
I join board chair César Urrunaga, treasurer Tim Groves, clerk Judith Perlstein as well as interim executive director Ben Echevarria and a great group of board members in serving as a steward for this this important organization.
The Welcome Project builds the collective power of Somerville immigrants to participate in and shape community decisions.
That is, The Welcome Project is an inherently civic organization: it does not seek to assimilate immigrants into a pre-existing culture, but rather seeks to equip area immigrants with the tools to effectively add their voices and perspectives to the ongoing task of improving our community.
This is an important distinction.
Somerville is a city of immigrants, as, indeed, the United States is a nation of immigrants. Our community’s personality, our strength, comes not from excluding those who are different from us nor from forcing others to conform to some socially-constructed norm.
The Welcome Project celebrates immigrants for who they are and for what they bring to the community.
This can often take practical forms – The Welcome Project is known partly for its ESOL adult language classes. But importantly, it takes an active form: in the classroom, English language skills are taught through a focus on student-selected topic areas.
Right now, most students are learning about jobs and housing. Other students are learning about mental health issues – particularly issues like culture shock, which hold particular interest in immigrant communities. These are the issues which effect our students most deeply. These are the issues for which our students voices need to be heard.
Our work is not just a service to the students who learn with us; its a service to the community. We need all these voices. We need all these perspectives.
I am thrilled to have been named Vice Chair of this great organization, and I look forward to continuing to support its growth in the coming years.