A lot has happened at The Welcoming Center’s (TWC) Immigrant Leadership Institute (ILI) so far this year. We have been offering seminars, designed as mini cohorts, that are each five weeks long, with up to 25 to 30 participants in each.
The shift in programming was a deliberate decision by TWC to meet the needs of participants in helping them connect and overcome social isolation, build social capital while building knowledge, and developing skills through an interactive online space that enable participants to stay connected during the pandemic.
Social Connections and Networking Seminar
The first seminar series, Social Connections and Networking, was held from February 9 to March 9, 2022. Participants were able to discuss, learn and develop their social connections through exploring different strategies of building connections in a new city, how connections can support in achieving goals, and understanding how networking is an important part of building social capital. Social capital is one of the key needs that most immigrants have in a new city where the need to build a sense of belonging that better supports the integration process and connects them to community.
The seminar series had 25 participants from 14 countries with diverse educational backgrounds and skills. The seminar series had guest speakers from different organizations and ILI alumni as guest speakers who engaged with participants on five topics that included: New Beginnings, Goals and Aspirations, Networking Culture in the U.S., Confidence in Conversation, and Storytelling.
Asked about their experience in the seminar, participants overwhelmingly shared how it gave them more confidence in making new connections and how they would use their new skills to give back to communities. One participant told us,
“This seminar supported me in achieving my goals in this new country, first by feeling that I am not alone in this new country and second, by connecting to others and being part of this community.”
Another participant said,
“[I’m] more aware of my commitment and the role that I have to play in the community.”
One participant even acknowledged the importance of using their skills to uplift others in the community, saying,
“It makes me think that we all feel confident even in one thing and we can share it with others, so we all grow together and feel more connected to life.”
Citizen and Immigrant Rights Seminar Series
The second seminar, Citizen and Immigrant Rights, began on April 9 and recently concluded on May 4, 2022. This seminar provided a space where participants learned and had conversations on different topics presented by guest speakers from community organizations and ILI alumni who focused on five topics in the seminar series: Immigrant Inclusion, Citizen and Immigrant Rights and Responsibilities, Reframing Dominant Narratives (with a highlight on storytelling), Acculturation in Integration, and Developing a Sense of Belonging in a New City.
Pictured: Participants and staff at the Citizen and Immigrant Rights seminar series
The seminar series had 27 participants from 15 countries with diverse educational backgrounds and skills. Many participants shared how the seminar helped them become more knowledgeable about their rights and the laws that protect them as immigrants. Additionally, participants felt inspired and were excited to share this new knowledge with members of their community. When asked how the seminar impacted them, a participant shared,
“This seminar inspired me to take action. To acknowledge our shared story as immigrants and feel confident that any effort to build community and engage is highly valued.”
Another participant claimed they enjoyed:
“Interacting with like-minded people and appreciating that am not alone in this journey. It has lightened the burden and now I face the future with more confidence.”
One participant even noted,
“I know now that I can be useful for my community even if my English level is not fluent. I know my rights in my community.”
Additional Outcomes of the Seminar Series
Storytelling: In the session of reframing dominant narratives, some participants were able to write and share their stories in the hopes that they would inspire other immigrants in building their voices through storytelling as well as to tell their stories as a way of reframing dominant narratives that exist about immigrants. Storytelling is a skill that enables immigrants to have a voice of sharing their truth, experiences, abilities, goals and achievements. This in turn helps with presentation skills as well as building empathy and learning from the experiences of others.
Connecting through cultural foods: Some of the participants who have been part of the seminar series were able to organize an in-person meeting at The Welcoming Center on Saturday, May 21, to connect with each other, share some of their cultural foods, reflect further on the seminar series experiences and share ideas and suggestions for future seminars. This provided a great opportunity to continue building on the process of having more in-person events that supports participants in the process of reconnecting together after a pandemic.
Pictured: Some participants from the Citizens and Immigrant Rights seminar at the in-person cultural food event at The Welcoming Center
Looking Forward: Leadership in Civic Engagement
We are currently hosting a new seminar that started on June 1 and will run through June 29, 2022. This seminar series will focus on discussion and defining how leadership is understood, what leadership is, and how to build collective leadership that promotes civic engagement. It will seek to help participants understand more about the purpose of power and justice and the role it plays in democracy while building on personal agency that supports immigrants in using their skills and strengths to overcome barriers experienced in the integration process.
To learn more about our Immigrant Leadership Institute program and/or seminar series, please email Maureen Smith at email@example.com.