Need and History
Over the past fifteen years, immigration rates to the United States have reached levels unmatched since the early 1900s. While in 1990 one in twelve Americans was an immigrant, by 2005 that proportion rose to one in eight. Today, many immigrants are making their homes in cities and towns without a history of immigration, such as Nashville, Boise, and Omaha, increasing the risk of misunderstanding, fear and divisions within these communities.
Change on this scale is never easy–not for the immigrants themselves, and not for the communities asked to welcome newcomers whose language and culture they may not understand.
|Watch this clip of Executive Director and Ashoka Fellow, David Lubell, explaining the need for Welcoming America.Credit: Ashoka, BeCause Foundation|
Many organizations exist to do the important work of helping immigrants adjust to life here in the United States. In turn, Welcoming America focuses on helping people who were born in this country understand and appreciate their new neighbors.
We believe that just as fertile soil is needed for a seed to grow, receptive communities are critical if immigrants are to thrive. Welcoming America focuses on the communities where new immigrants have made their homes, helping neighbors build relationships built on trust and understanding. Instead of focusing on the seed, we concentrate on preparing the soil in which it will flourish.
America is seen as a land of opportunity to those seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Our communities are strongest when everyone who lives in them feels welcome.
A Brief History
The first “Welcoming” campaign took place in Iowa in 2004. This successful campaign, dubbed “Welcoming Iowa,” was a short-term initiative that aimed to improve the climate for the rapidly growing immigrant population in the state.
In 2005 the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), inspired by the Iowa campaign’s message and approach, started to make plans for a “Welcoming Tennessee Initiative” (WTI). Since launching in 2006, The Welcoming Tennessee Initiative – the model for all subsequent welcoming initiatives – has substantially improved the climate for immigrants within the state. Statewide polling by Middle Tennessee State University has demonstrated an increase in positive opinions towards immigrants, and thousands of Tennessee residents have become active supporters of Tennessee’s increased diversity as a result of the project. In 2009 WTI was awarded the E Pluribus Unum Prize for exceptional immigrant integration initiatives.
The success of Welcoming Tennessee inspired several additional immigrant support organizations across the country to follow its lead. In July of 2007, seven organizations interested in starting Welcoming campaigns met to combine efforts and expand Welcoming campaigns past Tennessee. Hosting the meeting was Four Freedoms Fund, a funding collaborative that has played a crucial role in the formation and development of Welcoming America.
Since May of 2008, the national collaborative has grown substantially. The original pilot sites have increased their statewide reach considerably, and new Welcoming sites have formed across the country. In January of 2009 the Welcoming America national office was formed, and its first staff person was hired. Since then, the organization has grown considerably and currently engages multiple partners in building more welcoming communities through a vibrant affiliate network and through the Receiving Communities Initiative.