News & Views

Weekly Wins Round-Up: Autumn 2021

“All people are equal, not in terms of appearance, abilities, religion, but on the level of life itself. We are all human beings.”
-HIAS Pennsylvania Donor

Dear HIAS PA Supporter,

Every day, I am lucky to receive messages showing support for the important work we are doing: Working tirelessly on behalf of the newly-arriving Afghan evacuees while still providing desperately needed assistance to Haitians and low-income immigrants from around the world seeking safety and security in our region. At this time, we have resettled 74 refugees in just six weeks—an average of two people per day every single day for the past six weeks!

We have received an unprecedented outpouring of support from donors and volunteers. All of us at HIAS PA are extremely grateful for people like you who care about welcoming our immigrant neighbors who come to us hoping to create a safe, new life for themselves and for their families in the United States. Thank you for making sure our clients are welcomed, in safe shelter, clothed, fed, and well supported. I am so humbled to be part of this with all of you, and I hope you will find some of the stories below to be as inspiring as I do.

Teaming up to ensure that students get to school
A client’s three children who live in the Northeast and attend FACTS Charter School in Chinatown had not been going to school because there was a school bus driver shortage and their dad was not comfortable having them travel alone to their school. A HUGE thank you to Parisa and Marty from the Education program for teaming up with members of the Immigrant Health and Wellness Program to come up with a creative solution to do home to school accompaniments. After the staffs’ communication with the family and school, and lots of collective brainstorming about how to support the students in navigating SEPTA to get to school, the children received accompaniment to and from school for an entire week to help them get comfortable with the route. Thanks to everyone for pitching in to make this happen, especially to those who covered those early morning rides!
-Valeri Harteg, Education Program Manager, and Anna Shaffer, Immigrant Health and Wellness Program Case Manager

DACA recipient gets approved to travel. First stop: Seeing her parents!
My DACA client’s application for advance parole was just approved. She texted me to say, “Thanks for all your help. After 19 years I can’t believe that I’m closer to going back. It’s unreal.” She’ll be returning to Costa Rica for a month-long trip to see her parents.
-Domestic Violence Accredited Representative

Young Adult Mentoring program meets for a picnic and learns about navigating college
On Saturday, October 2nd, the Young Adult Mentoring Program had its first in person event of the school year: a picnic in Washington Square Park! We were so excited to be in person and to play some games that get people up and moving! We talked about their hopes and preparations for college, and heard from a “speaker panel” of mentors and program staff about their experiences and advice for navigating college. It was so great to be back in person and a great start to the year!
-Michelle Ferguson, High School and Post-Secondary Lead Instructor

Our volunteers are coming back to help with our Immigrant Wellness Program
Over the past year, our staff and interns have managed all of the medical accompaniment for social service department clients. Recently, Dianne Uwayo, Immigrant Wellness Health Coordinator, Samantha Drummond, Health Case Manager, and Anneke Kat, Community Engagement Specialist, put on a wonderful training for medical accompaniment volunteers. Additionally, our Immigrant Wellness Program team continues to handle COVID-19 vaccine outreach calls, and slowly but surely we are supporting more and more clients in accessing vaccines!
-Amy Eckendorf, Immigrant Wellness Program Manager

Spectacular seniors shoot for the stars in HIAS PA’s Young Adult Mentoring Program
This week, I’d like to give a shout out to the seniors of the Young Adult Mentoring Program, who are deep in the throes of their college applications! One student is applying for a prestigious scholarship at Temple University, while others are quickly gathering materials to apply to Penn by the early decision deadline in November! Another student already finished their personal statement and submitted it to their high school college prep class, and the essay is now being used as an example for the rest of the class! Other students are taking AP classes, working, doing dual enrollment at Community College of Philadelphia, and studying hard, all the while attending our mentor meetings and workshops. I’m really in awe of how quickly students, mentors, and our Drexel co-op, Casey Klek, are moving to adapt to new opportunities for students, and how much they are all challenging themselves to go for competitive opportunities.
-Michelle Ferguson, High School and Post-Secondary Lead Instructor

Green card opens doors for a “new” citizen
After working in the U.S. as a nurse for over 40 years, Diwata* finally got her green card through a partnership between HIAS PA’s Co-Director of Legal Services, Philippe Weiz, and pro bono volunteer and former HIAS Pennsylvania Executive Director, Judi Bernstein-Baker. Diwata realized something was terribly wrong when she retired four years ago and went to sign up for social security, to which she contributed for over 40 years. She was told she lacked immigration status and was not eligible for any payments. At 72, she was living on about $300 a month from a pension and her savings. She was terrified she would be deported. Diwata arrived as a young nurse to the U.S. in 1969 and partly due to the errors of immigration agencies and partly because she was unaware of the process, she never finalized her legal status.

Philippe managed to get her old records after contacting various immigration agencies. Judi was then able to use these documents to enable Diwata to apply for her green card through a little known pathway to lawful permanent residency called “registry”, which is available to people of good moral character who have lived in the U.S. since 1972. And Diwata’s moral character was stellar; she is a former President of the Filipino Nurses Associations, and continues to be an active volunteer in her local senior center.

It took almost a year after all her documents were gathered to prove she lived in the U.S. all this time; luckily, she kept many papers about her achievements. After being interviewed by an immigration officer in the last week of September, Diwata’s application for a “green card” was approved. Not only can she now access her well-earned social security benefits, but she will also be able travel back to the Philippines for the first time in 36 years to see her siblings, without fear she would be prevented from re-entering the U.S., her real home, where her U.S. citizen son and grandchild live.
-Philippe Weisz, Co-Director of Legal Services, and Judi Bernstein-Baker, pro bono volunteer and former HIAS PA Executive Director

*name has been changed

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

In health,

Cathryn Miller-Wilson