Welcoming America’s affiliates and partners use the following three pronged approach to change the dynamic for the better in communities across the country. The video modules below further illustrate how these approaches have been applied.
Local Leadership Development
One of the keys to Welcoming America’s success is its local nature. Individuals in any given community are more likely to listen to people living in their community than to outsiders. The way a Welcoming affiliate is able to create locally driven Welcoming initiatives is by helping to organize Welcoming Committees, which become the nerve centers for local activities and a resource for community members who decide they want to improve the climate for immigrants in their town. They are also the driving force behind leadership, strategy and fundraising for the two other, complementary Welcoming strategies – communications and public engagement. The committee members also act as ambassadors to the larger community, as well as engaging other individuals in the initiative’s work.
In many U.S. communities, particularly new immigrant destinations, the messages native-born community members hear about immigrants can be negative, misinformed, or minimal. One need only watch the local news, or turn on talk radio, to verify this. Welcoming America attempts to change the messages people hear about immigrants in local communities by utilizing positive, values-based messages and proven strategies for engaging receiving community audiences. These can range from strategies such as billboards to social and earned media. The communications campaign also acts as a mass-marketing campaign, alerting thousands of individuals – who are either “untapped” or “unsure” – that there is a place they can go to to learn more about demographic change in their community and to become active in building bridges between immigrants and longer-term residents.
This strategy centers on engaging members of the U.S.-born community together with foreign-born residents, and creating opportunities for facilitated contact. Using strategies that range from community dialogues to volunteer service and educational events, to intercultural events, these activities seek to foster meaningful connections that address the hopes and interests of all community members. Engagement work ideally takes place in venues that are convenient and comfortable; where common areas of interest can be explored; and where a “safe space” can be created. Some examples of venues include places of worship, community centers, civic clubs, and local schools and universities. Welcoming ambassadors may be empowered to lead such events.
Research and practice have shown that direct contact is the most effective way to transform the way community residents think about immigrants and immigration. Direct engagement presents an opportunity for immigrants to demonstrate the values they share with their new neighbors, and is also a forum to openly discuss apprehensions and misunderstandings, as well as barriers to community integration.
Approaches in Action: “Building a Nation of Neighbors” Video Modules
“Building a Nation of Neighbors” is a series of video modules that provide examples of the Welcoming America model. The modules, which were developed by Active Voice in association with BeCause Foundation, were adapted from the documentary Welcome to Shelbyville, produced and directed by Kim A. Snyder.
Watch the clips below to learn more about how each of the approaches described above can be implemented. For more information about Building a Nation of Neighbors, and to watch the full series, click here.
Local Leaders: The Foundation of Welcoming Work (2 min) - This short video clip, part of the “Building a Nation of Neighbors” series, provides an overview of the local leadership development component of the Welcoming America approach.
Welcoming Messages: Changing the Perception of Immigrants (5 min) - This short video clip highlights efforts to reverse negative images of immigrants by using the strategic communications component of the Welcoming America approach.
Starting the Welcoming Conversation (4 min) – This short video clip highlights work bringing immigrants and long-time residents into direct, facilitated contact – a key strategy used in the pubic engagement component of the Welcoming America approach.
From Neighbors to Friends: Overcoming Common Misunderstandings (5 min) - This short video clip highlights how to bring together community members to address misunderstandings and stereotypes.– a key strategy used in the pubic engagement component of the Welcoming America approach.