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Rewarding work

Citizenship tutoring program bonds resident volunteers, employees

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March 14th, 2017
Resident Carol Harris (left) helps Marcolina Pina, a housekeeper at Linden Ponds, prepare for his U.S. citizenship exam.

Resident Carol Harris (left) helps Marcolina Pina, a housekeeper at Linden Ponds, prepare for his U.S. citizenship exam.

Before she moved to Linden Ponds almost three years ago, Carol Harris lived near Concord, N.H., where there is a significant population of Bhutanese refugees. As Carol, who is a retired teacher, got to know people in the refugee community, she learned that many of them were working to obtain U.S. citizenship—and she decided to help. She and her late husband got involved with a program that helped immigrants study for the citizenship exam.

“We also helped them adjust to American life, especially the legal system,” Carol says. “We helped at least five couples get married because their Hindu religion wasn’t recognized so they couldn’t get a legal certificate. We were both retired and we loved doing this.”

When she moved to Linden Ponds, Carol was looking for a way to continue working with immigrants hoping to become U.S. citizens. She discovered there was a group of residents who tutored employees who were learning English as a second language. So Carol decided to form an ancillary group that helps employees seeking U.S. citizenship to prepare for the rigorous test and navigate the application process.

“There are two sides to citizenship,” Carol explains. “One is learning the information for the test, which is 100 questions on history, geography, symbols—and they are not easy. Then there is a 36-page application, and it’s a doozy.”

Community members step up

Carol has recruited 15 resident volunteers who work one-on-one with Linden Ponds employees preparing to become U.S. citizens. Like Carol, several of the volunteers are retired schoolteachers, so tutoring comes naturally to them. Neal Smith, who has a legal background, has been a great asset in helping the employees complete the lengthy applications. Carol says it’s especially important for applications to be filled out correctly because immigrants applying for citizenship have to pay a fee of $725—a huge some of money for many people.

“We’ve already seen one person get citizenship, so that was a big celebration,” Carol says.

Nadia Alves, who started out as a member of Linden Ponds’ housekeeping staff and now works as a caregiver, recently became a U.S. citizen. Resident Helene Soini was Alves’ tutor as she prepared for the citizenship exam, and the two women have become close friends, Carol says. It is common for the students and their tutors to form close bonds, as some have been working together for several years.

“Working with the students is absolutely phenomenal,” Carol says. “It really enriches your life.”

The citizenship tutoring program has been successful not only because of the dedication of resident volunteers and the determination of the immigrant workers, but also because of the support from Linden Ponds’ human resources department as well as individual supervisors. Carol says Linden Ponds’ policy is to give the workers a paid hour off each week to meet with their tutors, and managers have been happy to give their staff the time off.

“I can’t say enough about the wonderful cooperation of Linden Ponds’ human resources department,” Carol says.

Recently, Linden Ponds hosted a luncheon to celebrate the success of the citizenship tutoring program. The resident volunteers and the immigrant staff members attended as well as people who have donated money to the program for books and other materials.

“It was just to celebrate togetherness and what is going on with the program here at Linden Ponds,” Carol says. “The whole mood was upbeat. There must have been 75 people there, and there was a lot of good, happy chatter.”

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