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Friends of Welcoming is Live: Join the Online Welcoming Movement Today!

Welcoming America | June 13, 2011

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"21","attributes":{"class":"media-image alignleft size-medium wp-image-1852","typeof":"foaf:Image","style":"","width":"300","height":"150","title":"Print","alt":""}}]] The long-awaited day has finally arrived!  Friends of Welcoming is live!  Please join the online Welcoming movement by visiting www.friendsofwelcoming.org today and getting started. Although the climate for immigrants is currently quite challenging in the U.S., on the local level more and more Americans are recognizing that our communities are strongest when everyone living in them feels like they belong. At Welcoming America we are getting phone calls and emails daily from people who want to join our expanding network and make their communities more welcoming. In response to this unprecedented interest, we’ve launched a new online platform called Friends of Welcoming. Before the development of this site, the only way people could interact directly with our organization was to partner with an existing Welcoming affiliate or apply to form their own affiliate. Unfortunately, our affiliates are not located in every state, and not anyone has the time or  desire to start their own.  Now, for individuals, groups of friends, and organizations there’s an easy way to get involved. ANYONE can use Friends of Welcoming to make their community a more welcoming place for all.  You can sign up as an individual or a team and complete activities that make a difference in your neighborhood, like passing a Welcoming resolution or hosting a potluck that brings together immigrants and non-immigrants.  You will earn points for each activity you complete and be eligible for fun prizes including t-shirts, books, jump drives and even cash prizes (to be donated to your favorite charity).  If you are affiliated with an organization, your organization can participate as a team on our Affiliate Track and be eligible to win a $5,000 grant to start its own Welcoming initiative! Join Friends of Welcoming today!  Its an easy, fun, interactive way to change your community for the better. Get started. Join the Movement! Go Back

"Welcome to Shelbyville": Consolidated Information

Welcoming America | May 22, 2011

Consolidated Information on the Documentary "Welcome to Shelbyville"[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"20","attributes":{"class":"media-image size-full wp-image-1033 alignright","typeof":"foaf:Image","style":"","width":"300","height":"140","title":"Welcome to Shelbyville","alt":""}}]] Click here to go to the official ITVS website "Welcome to Shelbyville" is a documentary directed and produced by Kim A. Snyder and executive produced by the BeCause Foundation in association with Active Voice. There's a lot of information out there related to this film. Here's our best effort to consolidate it: Welcoming America's Connection to the film:Set against the backdrop of a shaky economy, Welcome to Shelbyville takes an intimate look at a southern town as its residents – whites and African Americans, Latinos and Somalis – grapple with their beliefs, their histories and their evolving ways of life. The film features the efforts of Welcoming Tennessee, the model for all subsequent Welcoming America campaigns, as its local partners in Shelbyville, TN work to unite a community dealing with rapid demographic change. Welcoming America is working to replicate initiatives such as the one in Shelbyville across the United States. For more info on how you can get involved with Welcoming America go to our get involved page or contact us. To Purchase a Copy of the Film: Copies of the film can be ordered from the Because Foundation website. Click here to go to the order page. You can also purchase it on itunes. Shelbyville Multimedia: Developed by Active Voice, Shelbyville Multimedia is a platform to promote community-building and harmony between native-born Americans, immigrants and refugees nationwide. Many of its components have been adapted from Welcome to Shelbyville. Friends of Welcoming: On June 15, Welcoming America will be launching "Friends of Welcoming" a new online platform that allows individuals, groups of friends, and organizations inspired by "Welcome to Shelbyville" to earn points for engaging in similar activities in their communities. Points can be used to earn prizes (books, dvds, t-shirts, jump drives, etc.) , and even the opportunity to win cash to start a Welcoming initiative or donate to your favorite immigrant/refugee serving non-profit. Friends of Welcoming is a sister site of Shelbyville Multimedia. To register now, click here
PBS National Airing: In most communities the film will air on May 24 on PBS at 10pm. Click here to find the exact time/date of the screening in your community.
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Welcome to Shelbyville Premiers on PBS May 24!

Welcoming America | May 14, 2011

Welcome to Shelbyville takes an intimate look at a southern town as its residents--blacks, whites, Latinos, and Somalis--grapple with their beliefs, their histories, and their changing way of life.  The film is directed and produced by Kim A. Snyder and executive produced by the BeCause Foundation in association with Active Voice.

The documentary features the efforts of Welcoming Tennessee - a project of TIRRC - the model for all subsequent Welcoming America campaigns. Welcoming America is working to replicate initiatives such as the one in Shelbyville across the United States.

In most communities the screening will be from 10:00-11:00pm. Check local listings here to find out what time this groundbreaking documentary will be airing in your community.

Consider hosting a house party to bring friends together to watch the film with dessert and drinks.  If 10pm on a Tuesday is too late for you, you can always TiVo the film and host a party earlier in the evening another day or on the weekend. Please visit Shelbyville Multimedia to download a free discussion guide for your party, and for other great resources.

Bonus: Earn Friends of Welcoming points for hosting a house party to watch Welcome to Shelbyville!  Find out more here. We are also excited to announce that Friends of Welcoming will be launching on June 15!  Friends of Welcoming is Welcoming America's new online platform twill allow individuals, teams, and organizations to earn points for engaging in welcoming activities.  Go here to receive updates about this project.  Friends of Welcoming can help you make a difference in your community in a fun and interactive way.

In most regions the screening will start at 10:00pm, and will run for an hour. To find out exactly what time it will run in your area, click here.

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Huffington Post Profiles Welcoming America

Welcoming America | April 14, 2011

Beyond Jan Brewer And Lou Dobbs: A Calm Center In The Immigration Debate

Click Here to view on Huffington Post's web site

In 2002, shortly before the Iowa caucuses, billboards began popping up in small towns across the state. The signs, featuring archival photos of German, Scandinavian and Eastern European immigrants -- all of whom had emigrated in numbers to the state in past generations -- read: "Welcome the Immigrant You Once Were."

The billboards were part of a statewide effort to influence the discussion on immigration, according to Devin Burghart, Vice President of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights and one of the campaign's organizers. "We saw efforts to toxify the climate, to make it less hospitable to new immigrants into the state," he says. "We knew where things were going [on immigration], but we had a hard time convincing people that it was going to get as nasty as it did." The current tenor of the immigration debate makes 2002 -- a time when Jan Brewer was still largely unknown to the American public -- look like the Golden Age of Tolerance. But, even though the tone of the national debate has heated up, communities in several states across the country are coming together to address the anxiety and fear surrounding immigration in a bid to strengthen ties between foreign born and native residents. Born out of those first billboards in Iowa, the effort coalesced into a national group called Welcoming America in 2007. Four years later, the movement is currently operating in 15 states: from Birmingham, Alabama to Crete, Nebraska to Yamhill County, Oregon. Along with billboards, there are now posters, radio ads, and television PSAs extolling welcoming messages. Complementing these efforts are dances, potlucks and picnics convened by local "Welcoming Committees" and held in partnership with Rotary clubs, church groups and civic organizations, all in an effort to forge stronger, more integrated communities. Watch the video PSA below created by Welcoming America affiliate Uniting North Carolina:  CLICK HERE to listen to one of Uniting NC's radio ads.

Though this effort remains distinctly grassroots, Welcoming America now counts blue chip philanthropist George Soros as one of its biggest supporters -- his Open Society Institute granted $150,000 to the organization in December of 2010. Raquiba LaBrie, the program director for OSI's Equality and Opportunity Fund, says of Welcoming America, "We thought this was a powerful model for reducing anxiety and undermining prejudice about immigrants and refugees through old school methods," specifically, person to person contact. OSI is not the only organization noticing Welcoming America's efforts. Two weeks ago, the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, established in part by venture capital guru William Draper, awarded a $300,000 "entrepreneur" grant to the organization's executive director, David Lubell. And, on May 24, PBS will nationally broadcast a documentary about the program called "Welcome to Shelbyville." Anne Marie Burgoyne, the portfolio director for Draper Richards Kaplan, believes Welcoming America is implementing a model that could change the way immigration is discussed on a national level. "We make general operation grants to innovative organizations to help take them to scale," she says. "We only fund things we think will have a high impact." According to Lubell, what sets his project apart from other immigration-focused initiatives is its focus on resident populations, rather than just immigrant communities -- which tend to be the traditional focus of outreach efforts, including English language programs and jobs training. "A lot of groups are trying to water the seed, and not the soil surrounding it," says Lubell. "We're trying to water the soil. Nothing's going to grow just by watering one alone." Suzette Brooks-Masters, who oversees immigration-related grantmaking at the J.M. Kaplan Fund, which put $90,000 towards Welcoming America activities in 2010, explains, "What I really liked about Welcoming America was that it was addressing a problem that a lot of philanthropists and a lot of advocacy groups had not tackled. Namely, how you talk to mainstream America" about immigration? She adds, "A lot of energy has been put into the immigrant rights movement, creating infrastructure for that movement, building power -- which is all incredibly legitimate -- but the problem is it that it doesn't actually address how to talk to native Americans." According to Lubell, one of the reasons his group is able to reach these resident populations is because Welcoming America events and communication efforts avoid any discussion of immigration reform or politics. "We don't advocate for policy,"he says. "We're a community building organization." By avoiding the specifics of reform -- and instead focusing on the social and cultural fears surrounding immigration and changing communities -- Lubell says he is able to speak to what Brooks-Masters calls "the 60 percent in the middle." According to Lubell, "Our main goal is to reach those people who are unsure whether immigration growth is a positive thing or not. And some of them are very reasonable -- they're just not getting accurate information about immigration." So far, it remains difficult to assess how effective the organization's efforts have been -- especially as communities across the country continue to push forward with divisive legislation, including controversial English-only laws. While Lubell is making a concerted effort to analyze his organization's efficacy (Welcoming America is set to begin pre- and post-event surveys for certain participants later this year) the relatively small scale of the efforts thus far and the inherently intangible nature of assessing public opinion -- as opposed to, say, measuring poverty rates or test scores -- makes such analysis difficult. In 2010, for example, Lubell estimates that Welcoming America has targeted 8,611,247 individuals in the communities where initiatives (including communications and public events) have taken place. Of this group, the organization estimates it reached 736,185 immigrants - or 10% of the total audience. Both Lubell and his foundational supporters say person-to person contact is creating more resilient communities. "The events," Lubell says, "are the most transformative." And while the organization contends that community dialogues and presentations are the best opportunity to change perceptions about immigration and fuel a strong "ripple effect", others question whether attendees of the local mixers aren't already inclined to have a favorable, or at least a considerably more progressive, view of immigrants. Suzanne Donato, a professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, where Welcoming America has launched several initiatives, says that those "conversations can overwhelmingly feature an audience that feels the same way." In Donato's mind, Welcoming America is most successful in reaching that elusive 60% via its media and communications efforts. "Those billboards were very dramatic," she says, referring to signs that were erected in Tennessee in 2006. "They certainly got peoples' attention -- everyone who drove down Interstate 40. Many different kinds of people saw them. And then there were letters to the editor [that followed]: ones that were pro-immigrant, some were anti, some were in the middle. But the billboards initiated conversations." Donato also underscores the effectiveness of Welcoming America's targeted outreach programs: "They send people out to have conversations with people who, in the local paper or in the news, have said things that might have been considered unwelcoming to immigrants. Or that suggested the person saying them was smart, but may not have understood the full immigration story." These outreach efforts, Donato contends, reach local officials: county commissioners, district attorneys and some law enforcement members -- providing a considerable ripple effect in small towns and cities. Another issue complicating Welcoming America's mission is the fact that many of its local organizers are also independently involved in immigration advocacy efforts. Darcy Tromanhauser, a Nebraska coordinator for the Welcoming America activities, is also the director of the Immigrant Integration & Civic Participation Program at the advocacy group Nebraska Appleseed. Speaking to this potential conflict, Tromanhauser says, "I think those sorts of dividing lines happen all the time. For example, at a non-profit we can't do any partisan political activities. People are used to that in this space." Convincing resident populations that Welcoming America is not part of any pro-immigration advocacy or policy efforts can be tricky even when the local representatives are completely independent. Kristin Collins, who runs Uniting North Carolina, Welcoming America's local affiliate in the state, notes that, "We're the only organization that operates as an independent non-profit, not affiliated with any advocacy groups. But our message is pro-immigrant -- so people tend to think, 'Oh they're just another one of those immigration advocacy groups.' We're really trying to show people that we're different. We're working hard to go to places where there's a mixed crowd with various beliefs and political positions." Welcoming America organizers insist that they are trying to reach these disparate voices, but the organization has yet to make inroads in some of the battleground states where the immigration debate is at its fiercest, including Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada. Of Arizona, Lubell says: "It's a place that we'll get to, but our organizations are still getting their feet wet and learning how this all works." Going to the state now, he contends, would be akin to "going straight to a senior high school AP class while you're still in junior high." And while critics are certain to measure Welcoming America's work against the strength of conservative efforts -- the passage of laws requiring immigration status checks, or continued debate over the 14th Amendment, for example -- combatting the hardliners isn't really part of the organization's mission. "Some people are never going to be persuaded that this country needs to have fair immigration laws," says Raquiba LaBrie of OSI. "And I don't suggest they waste time trying to." Some foundational supporters may have their own internally articulated goals inextricably tied to broader immigration policy reform, but Lubell remains defiant in his belief that reaching the moderate center and building stronger communities is the focus of his efforts. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, it's undeniable that Welcoming America exists as a haven from the otherwise heated rhetoric emanating from both sides of the aisle. In explaining why he does what he does, Lubell recalls a personal anecdote: "I switched high schools when I was younger, and there were those students who were really welcoming to me, who gave me a good orientation -- and as a result I really succeeded in that school. I became head of the community service program, which got me headed in the direction I'm in today. It's similar with immigrants and the people who want to make communities stronger. When you feel more welcome, you succeed." Go Back

The movement grows: check out Shelbyville Multimedia, stay tuned for Friends of Welcoming!

Welcoming America | March 17, 2011

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"15","attributes":{"class":"media-image alignleft size-medium wp-image-816","typeof":"foaf:Image","style":"","width":"210","height":"75","title":"ShelbyvilleMultimedia","alt":""}}]] Our important partner Active Voice recently launched a new character-driven website, www.ShelbyvilleMultimedia.org, that does an amazing job of transporting the viewer into the world of Welcome to Shelbyville. As you may know by now, Welcome to Shelbyville features the efforts of Welcoming Tennessee (a project of TIRRC), the model for all subsequent Welcoming America initiatives, as its local partners in Shelbyville, TN struggle to build a welcoming community. This documentary will be airing nationally on PBS via Independent Lens on May 24 at 10:00pm, so save the date! We strongly encourage you to explore Shelbyville Multimedia, and to participate in the opportunities for action it provides (see below for more details). Welcoming Tennessee and Welcoming America are featured in several parts of the Shelbyville Multimedia site, and our soon-to-be-launched web portal "Friends of Welcoming" - launching in May - is also featured.

Here's more on Shelbyville Multimedia: Not long ago, talk about "newcomers" rarely traveled beyond the barbershop, the kitchen table, or sometimes, the local radio station. But now, thanks to collaborations between civic-minded residents and tech-savvy media makers, these questions can be shared with people in changing communities everywhere.  Who's living in my community and why are they here? Why has immigration been such a steady force in this country? What does this mean now, in economically shaky times?   Inspired by the candid people featured in the 2010 documentary Welcome to Shelbyville (directed and produced by Kim A. Snyder and executive produced by BeCause Foundation in association with Active Voice), Shelbyville Multimedia shines a light on the challenges and opportunities of our increasingly global communities through a range of story-based resources, such as:
  • An interactive website where visitors can meet residents like Ms. Luci, a first generation American and a much-loved ESL teacher; Pastor Stephen, a local Presbyterian minister; Miss Marilyn, whose memories of the civil rights movement guide her to this day, and Hawo, a former nurse from Somalia who now also calls Shelbyville her home.
  • "Welcoming Stories" a series of short web-based memoirs - created in association with First Person American - from people who remember a special person who helped them as when they first came to America. Contributors can submit their own videos, photos or written Welcoming Stories on Tumblr or via Facebook.
  • Webisodes that capture the stories of these neighbors in their own words, and the intimate, sometimes awkward, but captivating steps of getting to know each other.
Here's more on Friends of Welcoming: “Friends of Welcoming” will be an online platform, created by Welcoming America, for individuals and groups who are interested in taking their interest in welcoming newcomers to the next level. Individuals who register online will be given access to online welcoming tools, as well as objectives. As they complete objectives, they will earn “welcoming points” which will make them eligible for numerous prizes- including cash prizes to be used to build a full-scale Welcoming initiative, or to support a local immigrant and/or refugee serving organization. This tool will help us expand the Welcoming movement exponentially! Friends of Welcoming is a sister site of Shelbyville Multimedia, and activities performed via Shelbyville Multimedia will be eligible for Friends of Welcoming points starting in May. Also Coming Soon: The Interactive Video Module, "All American Welcome": Also, stay tuned for “All American Welcome,” a 20-30 minute DVD being produced by Active Voice that will hone in on select scenes from Welcome to Shelbyville that exemplify the Welcoming America model, while providing additional context on how it can work for a range of communities and audiences. In summary, we urge you to visit Shelbyville Multimedia today, stay tuned for the launch of Friends of Welcoming in early May, stay tuned for the release of "All American Welcome" shortly after that, and save the date for the May 24th airing of Welcome to Shelbyville! Go Back

Mayor of Birmingham, AL issues Welcoming Proclamation

Welcoming America | July 29, 2010

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On Wednesday, July 28th the Mayor of Birmingham, William A. Bell, Sr., issued a proclamation declaring Birmingham a city that is "welcome to all." The effort for the proclamation was a joint effort of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice and Welcoming Alabama. The  proclamation commends the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, on their "Celebration of Immigrant Communities" event and goes on to declare:

"Whereas: As Maya Angelou stated 'We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.' and "Whereas: The City of Birmingham is making a historic proclamation that this city is welcome to all and will reject any policies that divid our community." Welcoming Alabama coordinator, Zayne Smith, stated: "This is an exciting day where the largest city in Alabama is proclaimed to be a Welcoming city. We hope that other cities across our state follow their example and work to make immigrants feel more welcome so that we can build bridges between the U.S.-born Alabamans and their immigrant neighbors. " "By issuing this proclamation, the mayor is clearly stating that Birmingham is a city that believes that communities that are stronger when they work together," said Ellen Gallagher, Director of Programs for Welcoming America. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"9","attributes":{"class":"media-image size-medium wp-image-535 alignright","typeof":"foaf:Image","style":"","width":"300","height":"200","title":"Welcoming proclamation, Birmingham","alt":""}}]] Welcoming Alabama is one of 13 state affiliates of Welcoming America. Welcoming America is a national, grassroots-driven collaborative that works to promote mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and U.S.-born Americans. The ultimate goal of Welcoming America is to create a welcoming atmosphere – community by community – in which immigrants are more likely to integrate into the social fabric of their adopted hometowns To learn more about Welcoming Alabama and other Welcoming campaigns across the country, visit www.welcomingamerica.org/about-us/our-affiliates/. Pictured top left: Welcoming Alabama coordinator, Zayne Smith, is presented with the proclamation by Charles Long,  Executive Administrative Assistant to the Mayor. Pictured bottom right: an image of the proclamation. Go Back

Welcoming Massachusetts - the Welcoming Resolution Champions

Welcoming America | June 16, 2010

Welcoming Massachusetts has received the endorsement of over 50 elected officials, had Welcoming resolutions passed in 7 cities and towns, and received well over 6000 individual endorsements. The initiative is currently focusing on the communities of Fitchburg and Framingham. For more information on this initiative or to get involved, contact Marcony Almeida at [email protected]

<!--[if !supportLists]-->o <!--[endif]--> Welcoming Massachusetts has received over 6,600 signatures in support of its campaign, the endorsement of over 50 elected officials, and had Welcoming resolutions passed in support of the campaign in 7 cities and towns.

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Welcoming Tennessee - National Award Winner

Welcoming America | June 16, 2010

Welcoming Tennessee, the first Welcoming campaign - and model for all subsequent campaigns - won the Migration Policy Institute's E Pluribus Unum award for exceptional immigrant integration initiatives in 2009. Find out more about their award-winning approach by clicking here. Find out the latest on their campaign by visiting their website. Go Back