For those of us born in the United States, citizenship is not something we think about on a regular basis. However, for the refugee or immigrant who has fled their country due to war, oppression or violence, the pursuit of citizenship is always at the forefront because it means having a country to call home again.

In 2009, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [USCIS] began the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program, awarding grants to immigrant-serving organizations to help them better assist permanent residents preparing for citizenship. In 2012, World Relief DuPage/Aurora [WRDA] submitted an application and was one of two Illinois organizations to receive this Federal grant.

“We were honored to receive this grant. It’s highly competitive---only 40 grants are given nationally each grant cycle,” said Karen Jealouse, WRDA Director of Education.

At the time of the announcement, the grant criteria did not allow for organizations to reapply when the grant cycle was over, which would end funding for Citizenship Classes, citizenship tutor training, and certain ILS services. However, in 2013, the guidelines were changed---allowing WRDA to reapply.

Last week, WRDA learned that the USCIS grant was renewed for another two years. The renewal means that the Immigrant Legal Services [ILS] department will be able to continue offering free services to those applying for citizenship, allocate time to more complex applications, and hire part time staff to assist with the administrative process. With regard to education, in addition to offering regular citizenship classes, the grant allows for clients with lower English skills to be served by our teachers who specialize in teaching those with little to no formal education.

Over the next two-year grant period, WRDA will be offering free citizenship classes in both DuPage and Kane counties. In addition to passing a civics test, the applicant must speak, read, and write English; therefore, the focus of each class is on helping the students gain the knowledge and tools needed to pass the naturalization interview. According to Andrea Gerhart, WRDA Education Projects Coordinator and citizenship teacher, the students come to class already internally motivated because obtaining citizenship is so important to them.

As a teacher, my goal is to equip the students in such a way that they walk into their interview with confidence,” said Gerhart.

Former citizenship student, Sara Gomez, believes that without World Relief classes, she would not have been as prepared for her interview.

“I could have memorized the questions on my own, but I wanted to become a citizen from the inside and outside,” said Gomez.

Motivated by her two children who are citizens by birth, Gomez never missed a class because she wanted to learn all that she could about U.S. history.

“I wanted to understand how freedom was achieved and how women got the right to vote in the U.S.,” said Gomez.

Furthermore, without the commitment of attending a class, Gomez says that she may have not put aside the time every week to study.

Currently, Sara’s mother is starting the application process towards U.S. citizenship and Sara is urging her to enroll World Relief classes. Citizenship classes will begin again in October in Wheaton. For more information on these classes, contact the DuPage office at (630) 462-7660.

To review the steps to citizenship, visit www.worldreliefdupageaurora.org/citizenship-information. Or if you would like to learn about becoming a Citizenship Tutor, helping students who require help outside of class time, contact Jamie Daling, WRDA Volunteer Manager, at jdaling@wr.org or 630-462-7566 x 1046.