SFSU Public Affairs Press ReleasePublished by the Public Affairs Office at San Francisco State University, Diag Center.
S.F. State volunteers help senior immigrants prepare for citizenship test
SAN FRANCISCO, CA., September 17, 1999-For the third year in a row San Francisco State University student volunteers are helping senior immigrants become U.S. citizens through a program called Project SHINE-Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders. The program, a national community service learning effort with sister sites in several other major cities, provides vital preparation for seniors who face the prospect of answering the 100 often difficult questions used by the INS in its citizenship i nterviews.
Senior immigrants-who are among the approximately 1.8 million people currently waiting to take the citizenship test-must overcome a variety of obstacles to become naturalized. Not least among them is the intimidation that many of them say they feel when confronting a large bureaucratic institution like the INS. Project SHINE helps remove language and literacy barriers that are often at the root of the seniors' fear.
Last year, 100 students from both San Francisco State and City College from a wide range of academic disciplines took part in the program, assisting in 32 citizenship and literacy classes and serving over 200 native Chinese, Russian, Hispanic, and Southeast Asian seniors. Coaches role-played as INS officers in mock interviews, reviewed class material, and provided both linguistic and moral support for individuals and small groups.
Yan Matan, a 74-year-old who prepared for her citizenship test with the help of the program, was more than happy to work with coaches from S.F. State. "They help me study English, they help me practice the 100 questions, they talk with me," she said.
Student coaches also find the program to be tremendously rewarding. "It was a truly brilliant experience," said one coach. "It increased my level of concern and awareness of the immigrant community." Others were thankful for the opportunity to work closely with senior immigrants in their community. "It taught me volumes about teaching literacy, building relationships, and how the two are not just complimentary, but inextricably entwined."
SFSU English professor and SHINE project coordinator Gail Weinstein brought SHINE to S.F. State after creating a successful model for intergenerational approaches to learning while working with Southeast Asian immigrants in Philadelphia during the 1980s. As the program grew, Weinstein developed a passion for and commitment to intergenerational work.
When an associate at Temple University earned a grant from the Corporation for National Service to have college student volunteers do intergenerational work in immigrant communities throughout the country, Weinstein was called on to head the program in San Francisco. With the passage of welfare reform, attaining citizenship became a concern for many immigrant seniors and Weinstein began focusing her efforts in that direction. Soon SHINE developed as an off-shoot of the program and Weinstein, along with Nina Gibson of City College of San Francisco, began recruiting student volunteers.
Weinstein is proud of the program's success and optimistic about its long-term effects. "There is enormous satisfaction in building a program where academic coursework comes to life," she said. "Our community is strengthened through intergenerational relationships that we hope will last." This fall Weinstein wants to expand to 180 coaches per academic year which shouldn't be hard as word of the program has gotten around the City and demand for services is growing rapidly.
SHINE was cited as an exemplary model of service learning at a recent meeting of Campus Compact, a national organization of colleges and universities committed to community service learning.
Editor's note: Visits to citizenship classes at project SHINE's Chinatown, Mission, Downtown, and Richmond district locations can be arranged by contacting Nina Gibson at City College of San Francisco, (415) 239-3171; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Last modified April 24, 2007, by Office of Public Affairs