News & Views

Weekly Wins Round-up: October 2020

This election season has been like no other. I’m sure that you, like the rest of us, have gotten the calls, the texts, the emails, imploring you to cast your vote, not only for the President, but for justice for all.

And as we prepare for the election, bad news continues to batter us, as COVID-19 cases increase and our community convulses after Walter Wallace, Jr., beloved son, husband, father and brother, was shot to death by law enforcement. But I call to mind the words of Michelle Obama after the death of John Lewis:

“While the struggle and pain is all too real, fighting for each other—and paving the way toward something better for our kids and grandkids—can and should be a source of real and lasting joy.”

And every week, I open my email and read about all of the incredible ways our staff, volunteers, and clients have come together to create that brighter world, and my hope is restored. Please join me in celebrating HIAS PA’s October Wins.


1. Client beats the odds and gains citizenship just in time to vote

One of our citizenship clients, who is originally from Haiti, had his second interview for citizenship last month. He had failed the written portion of the naturalization exam back in February and was going to retake that part of the exam. We assigned him a volunteer tutor, who worked with the client in person and then over the phone once the pandemic hit. The tutor helped identify that the client might actually have a learning disability, but, due to COVID-19, he was unable to get an appointment with a neurologist to make the diagnosis and get a medical waiver in time. So the client studied really hard and tried his best… and he passed! He was sworn in as a U.S. citizen, *just* in time to register to vote for the November election! (Note that to register to vote in PA, you must be a US citizen for at least one month before the next election.)

-Mary Clark, P-CAN Coordinator


2. Freedom comes in many forms: Youth client studies hard, receives his learner’s permit

After 3 months of struggling with PennDot, one of my youth clients who experienced abuse and neglect in the foster system in Honduras finally got his Learner’s Permit. He studied hard and scored 15 correct out of 15 questions on his first try!

-Stephanie Lubert, Immigrant Youth Advocacy Initiative Supervising Attorney


3. Volunteers call 750 new citizens, encourage them to vote

I want to recognize the spectacular work of Community Engagement Intern Kerry O’Neil, who created HIAS PA’s first ever Get Out the Vote campaign. In just a few weeks, Kerry O researched best practices, developed a script and a training, and recruited 35 volunteers to call around 750 folks who have become citizens with HIAS PA’s help within the last five years. This cohort of volunteers called everyone to encourage them to register to vote and to support them in registering and voting. Kerry O, you have done a tremendous amount of work on this and should be incredibly proud!!!

-Kerry Coughlin, Community Engagement Specialist


4. HIAS PA staff helps clients with ESL, digital literacy, and navigating the school system

I want to spotlight Education Program Administrator Parisa Khoshnood and Refugee Resettlement Fellow Said Hashemi, who have done an absolutely INCREDIBLE job handling remote school access for our refugee clients. One family in particular has four children going to three different schools and Parisa and Said have worked tirelessly to connect them to their classes. Parisa is in constant contact with teachers, counselors, and ESL coordinators to make a difficult experience run smoother for our clients. Said has interpreted and helped the children practice using their new chromebooks. In addition, Parisa and Said both visited this family on multiple occasions to do COVID-safe in-person meetings to navigate the virtual learning world. Thank you Said and Parisa!!!

-Dzemila Bilanovic, Resettlement Case Manager


5. HIAS PA Education Team creates multilingual Chromebook orientation videos

We are excited to announce that the series of introductory Chromebook orientation videos for newcomer families created by HIAS Pennsylvania’s Adult Education Lead Instructor Charlie Heil and the HIAS PA Education team, with support from HIAS, Inc. (the national HIAS) are available for use.

The video series is currently available in English, Burmese, Dari, Kinyarwanda, and Swahili, and will soon be available in Arabic, Nepali, and Tigrinya. Access the videos on YouTube!


Thank you for your continued support of HIAS Pennsylvania. I hope that these Weekly Wins from HIAS PA staff have given you a lift, as they do me. Look out for more wins at the beginning of next month!

In health,

Cathryn Miller-Wilson

P.S. Justice for all of us is on the ballot this November 3rd. Make a plan and don’t forget to vote!

HIAS Pennsylvania is open for businessHIAS PA is open to new clients by phone only. Call 215-832-0900 to get immigration legal help.