An Age-Old Story Meets 21st Century Technology

By Laura Vazquez, Program Manager, Immigration Initiatives, NCLR

Erie Neighborhood House has a long history of helping immigrants get integrated into American society.

NCLR Affiliates have a long history of assisting eligible permanent residents in applying for citizenship. For decades, our Affiliates have worked to integrate America’s newcomers by helping them learn English, apply for citizenship, and then assisting them with registering to vote so that they can fully participate in our democracy.

One such Affiliate is Erie Neighborhood House. Erie was originally founded in 1870 as a settlement house that served immigrants in Chicago. When Erie’s work began, Chicago’s immigrant communities were mostly Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, and German.

Fast forward to 2017 and Erie is still working to incorporate immigrants into the strong communities that contribute to the vibrancy of Chicago. Its English classes are now made up of immigrants mainly from Latin America who came to Chicago for a better life as previous groups of immigrants have done.

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NCLR Affiliate Spotlight: Erie Neighborhood House Captures the Holiday Spirit

By David Castillo, Digital Content Manager, NCLR

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For more than 140 years, our Chicago Affiliate, Erie Neighborhood House, has been immersed in its community, striving every day to “promote a just and inclusive society by strengthening low-income, primarily Latino families through skill-building, access to critical resources, advocacy, and collaborative action,” as their mission statement makes clear. We’re honored to make them the focus of our December Affiliate Spotlight.

Erie House offers programming that serves the whole family, from small children to senior citizens, all with the goal of helping immigrant communities succeed. While the demographic makeup of those who Erie House serves has changed over time, the commitment to the people and the families in their neighborhood has been constant. And, one of Erie House’s most cherished traditions, their Holidays with Heart event, exemplifies that love and commitment.

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One of the youngest celebrants meets Santa Clause at the 2015 Erie Neighborhood House’s Holidays with Heart this past weekend. Photo: Erie Neighborhood House

For more than 10 years, Erie House has hosted the holiday event, but its roots really go back much further. In the early 1900s, Florence Towne started as a kindergarten teacher and eventually rose to lead the organization. It was Towne who began Erie House’s holiday tradition, which started out modestly with dolls she would give to her students. Now the annual event serves a whole community and is responsible for giving toys away to about 500 kids in need.

“Holidays with Heart is an amazing opportunity for our staff, volunteers, and partners in the business community to come together to spread some holiday cheer to our families in need,” said Celena Roldán-Moreno, Erie House’s Executive Director.

Holidays with Heart is in December, but planning for it begins in September. The entire staff has a role and about 140 volunteers are also called on to help decorate, wrap gifts and provide general support.

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“The goal is to be able to provide something for these families, because many of them are low-income. It’s really just to bring some joy to those families,” said Lucero Cervantes, Annual Fund and Special Events Manager for Erie Neighborhood House.

Of course, a holiday event wouldn’t be complete without gift giving, and this is where Erie House’s generous donors really make an impact. In advance of the event, children in Erie House programs are instructed to make a wish list of two gifts. Students are given a dollar amount so the value of all the gifts is more or less the same, but they are usually given what they ask for. That information is then relayed to donors, which number over 40 this year. Donors then work to grant those wishes.

It’s this part of the event that Cervantes looks forward to every year.

“I love seeing how excited and happy they are when they receive a gift, when they see Santa Claus. It’s just a great event for bringing families together,” said Cervantes.

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Every year, Erie House helps connect donors with about 500 children to grant them holiday wishes.

The gifts aren’t all that’s offered at Holidays with Heart, however.

“It’s always amazing to see a room filled with presents, wrapped beautifully by volunteers and staff the night before. But our event is about more than just material presents,” said Roldán-Moreno.

Indeed, for the invited families, the event can be a holiday season lifeline. For those families most in need, Erie House will connect them with a donor who can provide them with assistance in the form of grocery gift cards so they can make a holiday meal. They also will receive coats and other accessories to help them get through the brutal Chicago winters.

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Together with its strong programming and its emphasis on serving, Erie House highlights the success of the NCLR Affiliate Network and its impact on Latinos all over the country.

“The Affiliate Network allows us to join our one voice with countless other voices across the country,” said Roldán-Moreno. “That gives us hope and helps us recommit to the work at hand each new day.”

This Week in Immigration Reform – Week Ending April 26

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Week Ending April 26

This week in immigration reform, NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee as it held its first hearing on the Gang of Eight’s bipartisan bill; NCLR Affiliate Erie Neighborhood House hosts Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D- Ill.) as the two partner up to promote immigration reform; NCLR’s Miami office, South Florida Affiliates and partners, and Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.) come together at a community roundtable on immigration reform; NCLR Affiliates continue visiting their members of Congress, while NCLR Field offices debrief Affiliates on the bill and execute citizenship workshops; and a new survey finds that two-thirds of polled Republicans support the Senate Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill.

Top Lines:

  • Janet Murguía at Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing: We Need Reform This Year
  • NCLR Affiliates in Action
  • Republicans, American Public Overwhelmingly Support the Senate Gang of Eight’s Immigration Reform Bill

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