The Welcome Project has been opening doors for immigrants since 1987. The non-profit organization, located in the Mystic Valley Public Housing Development, does just what its name implies: help immigrant residents feel welcome in Somerville through various classes, programming, and invitations to safe spaces.
But it’s not just another classroom; its work goes a step further. The Welcome Project supports immigrants as they help shape the community, have engaged civic lives, and find an identity within schools, government, and similar institutions. Its mission is to “build the collective power of immigrants so they can participate in community decisions,” says Director of Parental Engagement Kenia Alfaro. And this goes for people of all ages.
A few of the organization’s popular programs include ESL classes for all skill levels and ages, a citizenship class, homework help for younger people, and college preparation programs for high-school students. The courses are intended to foster the sense of pride an individual feels for their native culture, while also helping them adjust to a new country.
“One of the biggest barriers to integration is language,” says Executive Director Ben Echevarria. “The fact that we teach them that—and they can speak English, they feel confident about it, and now they’re part of the community—is a huge impact.”
The Welcome Project has supported immigrants from a variety of countries, often from Central America, all facing difficult barriers of entry that require them to advocate for themselves. The programs seek to give them the skills and resources to find housing, obtain an education, and know their rights. The purpose is not simply to help someone assimilate to their community, but rather to help them become an active and engaged part of shaping it.
Another goal of the group is to dispel negative attitudes surrounding immigration, and the nonprofit’s headquarters doubles as a safe space where people can feel fully protected and secure. The country has seen a decline in immigrant attendance at institutions like schools and hospitals, says Echevarria, due to a fear of sharing personal information and risk of deportation. The Welcome Project is a place to share these concerns.
“If they want to talk about that, we’re going to listen,” says Alfaro. “That’s more important to me than the lesson, learning English or whatever it is we’re doing. Hearing them and giving them that space to talk about their worries and their anxieties—that’s super important because it’s a teaching moment for us as a staff.”
Echevarria says that one of the reasons people continue to visit The Welcome Project is because of the relationships that they build there.
“They see we care,” he says. “Whenever they need something, we will go out of our way to try to figure out how to accommodate that. At the end of the day, they see us as a trusted source.”
The Welcome Project is located at 530 Mystic Ave. #111. To learn, visit www.welcomeproject.org.
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