Building Community, Building Citizenship

Citizenship 1Data from the most recent U.S. Census tells us that ten percent of Omaha’s total population is foreign-born.  71.6% of these individuals are not United States citizens.  Since this figure emerged as a bit of a surprise, Deirdre Routt and I decided to explore the relationship between citizenship and community.  Does a higher percentage of citizenship equal a more inclusive community?  Is there something happening in Omaha that functions as a barrier to citizenship?  Are these issues as intertwined as we suspect or are we assuming a relationship that isn’t valid?  Does citizenship matter?

Omaha is home to people from all over the world.  There are many service organizations here that support immigrants and refugees.  Deirdre and I focused on the population who relocated here from Burma to create a manageable meeting scope.  We had three different goals in mind: to create connections between those working on similar issues; to define shared issues; and, if possible, to find a problem to work on together or apart.  To create our invitation list, we identified local groups that provide service to Omaha’s Burmese population through civics classes, ESL (English as Second Language) classes, and legal assistance.  Some of the organizations providing legal resources already meet on a regular basis.  Most of the groups present also participate in Omaha Refugee Task Force meetings.  Although there was a feel of familiarity in the room, some individuals had never met in person.  The meeting also presented a valuable opportunity to generate awareness of, and possibly a direct role for, Omaha Public Library’s New Americans Task Force team.

Was our meeting successful?  Although the follow-up evaluation results were slightly disappointing, I’m inclined to say yes.  We did achieve the three stated goals during our meeting. Three of the nine meeting attendees responded to the follow-up evaluation.  Two of the three stated they both learned something new and made a new connection.

There was also a commitment between representatives from the Southern Sudan Community Association and the Yates Community Center to address a lingering bed bug issue between tenants and a local property management company.  I feel the discussion raised more questions than it answered.  However, the dialogue was valuable and, hopefully, strengthened relationships between the participating organizations.  Another sign of success was the strong desire expressed by attendees for further information.  Per participant request, Deirdre and I will provide the group with the flip chart notes and create a local resource guide for citizenship services.  This guide will be modeled on the ESL (English as Second Language) resource guide created by Laurie Hajek-Jones and Suzan Jank in Pilot Project 1.  The spirit of collaboration was clearly present between these organizations which create optimism for an ever-improving Omaha.

Posted by Anna Wilcoxon

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