Monday, September 18, 2017

The 2017 Immigrant Welcome Award Recipients Announced

Congratulations to the 2017 Recipients
of the Immigrant Welcome Awards!
Join us for the ceremony an celebration this Saturday
As co-sponsors of the 4th Annual Immigrant Welcome Award Ceremony, the Cities of Champaign and Urbana, the CU Immigration Forum, the Muslim American Society of Urbana-Champaign, and the Urbana Free Library are pleased to announce the recipients of the 2017 Immigrant Welcome Awards. This year's award recipients are Nancy M. Ramirez Blancas, Charles Larenas, Samuel Smith, Karyl Wackerlin, The Education Justice Project (EJP), and the Immigration Project.

The Immigrant Welcome Awards Selection Committee congratulates this year’s award recipients and thanks them for their dedicated work enriching the lives of those not only living in Champaign-Urbana, but around the world.  The public is encouraged to celebrate their achievements during the Immigrant Welcome Award Ceremony and Celebration on Saturday, September 23. This event includes free activities for children and refreshments. 

The 4th Annual Immigrant Welcome Awards
Saturday, September 23, 2017 from 2pm-4pm 
Muslim American Society Center
2011 Brownfield Rd, Urbana

The 4th Annual Immigrant Welcome Awards Ceremony and Celebration is part of 2017 Welcoming Week, a national week of events that brings together immigrants and U.S. born residents in a spirit of better understanding and unity.

Program of Activities:


We Are More Than One Story 

Capoeira Angola Center of Mestre João Grande-Illinois

Welcoming Remarks 

Reading of the Welcoming Week Joint Proclamation
Deborah Feinen, Mayor of Champaign

Recognition of Partners 

Recognition of Welcome Award Recipients 
Student leadership
Community impact

Acknowledgement of the 
Champaign International Connection City

Human Rights award
Community Impact
Humanitarian Relief
Distinguished Leadership Service

The 2017 Recipients of the 4th Annual Immigrant Welcome Awards:

Student Leadership Award
Nancy M. Ramirez Blancas

Nancy Ramirez Blancas has been in the forefront of student testimony and activism around issues such as the Access act and support for DACA students like herself. She effectively recruited people into La Casa Cultural Latina’s trainings on how to be an ally for undocumented students at the University of Illinois and continues to be a firm and fearless voice for this cause, for herself and others. She has been consistently active not ONLY in behalf of undocumented students but also in her own disciplinary organizations. Nancy has a deep commitment to using her knowledge to help others who find themselves in situations like her own.  Her activism and testimony is fearless, even while she remains uncertain of the educational she has striven so hard to secure.

Humanitarian Relief Award
Samuel Smith

Sam Smith is recoginzed for leading the projects efforts to build a clean water well in the Koyagbema community of Kenama, Sierra Leone near a school operated by the Sierra Leone YMCA. A simple investment in these wells can unlock the potential of every student by helping them stay healthy and freeing them to remain in classes other than leaving classes to fetch water. 
Sam helped coordinate the securing of funding by building a partnership between the University Y,MCA, Urbana Rotary, Sierra Leone YMCA, Akelos, and the Freetown Rotary in Sierra Leone.  Sam’s hard work in coordinating all of this the past two years resulted in the construction of the clean water well this past summer.  He was fortunate to travel to Sierra Leone this summer for the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Distinguished Leadership Service Award
Charles Larenas

For the last 11 years Charles Larenas has been directing the Summer Migrant Education Program in Champaign County. Parkland College has been hosting the program for the last 9 years. This summer of 2017 Charles just finished his 22nd year with the Illinois State Migrant Education Program which provides high-quality and comprehensive educational programs for migrant children.

Charles began his first Migrant Education Program with six employees who served about 60 students in 5 different cities. This year, the program had 86 employees and served over 250 students/families, while recruiting close to 350. Through this program he has been providing unique experiences to local youth. Every year he hires local Latino college students to work at the program and  provides the encouragement, and the empowerment these students need to participate. He is truly developing leaders.

Community Impact Award
The Education Justice Project (EJP) 

EJP is a college-in-prison program. In recent years, EJP has reached out to family members of incarcerated people, providing a monthly forum for them to support one another while writing letters to loved ones in prison. Recognizing the similarities between incarceration and deportation, they extended letter writing sessions, known as the Ripple Effect, to include those facing immigration threats including undocumented U of I students, undocumented local families, and newly resettled refugees.  An additonal service that EJP provides is to assist students who get deported to Mexico through developing a deportee reentry guide. The guide is to assist people who are sent back to Mexico in orienting themselves and learning about services available to them in that country. EJP is recognized for addressing the increasing threats facing immigrants today under the new administration of the United States.

Community Impact Award
Immigration Project 

The Immigration Project (IP) is a nonprofit organization providing immigration legal assistance to the 100,000 immigrants residing in Central and Southern Illinois. It provides access to quality legal services in Central and Southern Illinois. Due to the complexity of immigration law, quality legal services is essential to keeping families united, building strong communities, and protecting victims of crime. Immigration attorneys and immigration specialists travel to meet with clients in seven regional locations. Without these programs, low-income immigrants in the region would struggle to obtain access to professional immigration assistance. Staff is committed to helping immigrants, knowing that immigrants are members of our community, and that helping all members of a community strengthens the entire community.

Human Rights Award
Karyl Wackerlin

Karyl a professional photographer now uses her camera to find and spread joy across the globe during mission trips. As part of That’s What She Said Project, Karyl created and organized She Said: Soul Journey mission trips to God’s Littlest Angels (GLA) orphanage in Haiti. Through this program, she has inspired women in the Champaign-Urbana community to experience this life-changing trip. Karyl has also worked on documenting the caregivers’ stories both through written word and film and has hired translators while in Haiti to work with her on this project. Karyl’s dedicated efforts have resulted in millions of dollars being donated to GLA over the past four years. The project has also introduced women from our community to Haiti and to foster in them the same love for the people and country that Karyl has, creating a connection and bond between CU and Kenscoff, Haiti.

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