Live with Purpose - September 30, 2022
by Kathie Miller
“Today is a day of joy and celebration.”
Judy Hansen shared these words with a crowd of guests gathered at the annual celebration of citizenship hosted by the Goodwin Living Foundation on Friday, September 16, 2022. Judy is a resident of Goodwin House Alexandria. An active volunteer, Judy manages a tutoring program that supports team members who take part in our U.S. Citizenship Program.
During two events—one hosted at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroad (GHBC) and one hosted at Goodwin House Alexandria—residents, team members, other special guests and government officials gathered to celebrate the program and hear stories of team members who seek citizenship.
“I want to congratulate all the team members who have either gained U.S. citizenship or are on the pathway to gain this incredible recognition,” said U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), who appeared via a special video that he recorded for the event. “I want to thank all the residents who have helped the team members through this pathway,” he continued.
Yehuala Azene arrived in the U.S. from Ethiopia in August, 2015. She currently works as an RMA/CNA (Registered Medication Aide / Certified Nursing Assistant) in Assisted Living at GHA. Yehuala is married with two children. She also has a large family still living in Ethiopia.
“Being a U.S. citizen is so wonderful. Not everyone gets this opportunity,” Yehuala said as she spoke as a panelist during the celebration at GHA.
Both celebrations featured Goodwin Living team members and family members who received a grant to pay their application fees. Yehuala shared details of her own story and journey of becoming a U.S. citizen.
Yehuala’s application took two years to process—she started in 2020. Her husband was not working during the pandemic, so Yehuala found herself as the sole source of income for the family. She had to pay for herself, her husband and one of her children to become citizens. Yehuala commented that they would not have been able to do that without the support of the Foundation, which now covers the application fees for team members and one immediate family member.
“It’s been very, very good to get the support and encouragement,” Yehuala shared. “I’m speechless. The words ‘thank you’ don’t seem the same as all that you did.”
Ali Cherchar came to the U.S. with his family, who left their home country of Algeria six years ago. They arrived on September 16, 2016. Ali was speaking to the crowd at our celebration events on the sixth anniversary of his family’s arrival.
“Today is a special day,” commented Ali as he addressed the crowd. “And being here with you today is even more special.”
Ali went on to share more about his family and their pursuit of American dreams. Farida Chechane, Ali’s mother, has worked at GHBC for five years. He has two younger siblings who have also worked in dining services, earning money to help them pay for college. Farida joined the GHBC team as a dining server and is currently studying to become a nurse. “I’m here today because of all the sacrifices she has made along the way,” Ali said.
Thanks to Farida’s job at GHBC, Ali was able to attend the University of Virginia. He graduated in December 2021 and recently started working as a software engineer for Deloitte Consulting. In March this year, he became a U.S. citizen. Farida became a citizen last month. Both Ali and Farida received grants from the Goodwin Living Foundation to pay for their application fees.
“We [our family] have gone through ups and downs throughout the years,” shared Ali. “But 2021 and 2022 have been phenomenal!”
We write often about our citizenship program. Partly because it is a truly unique benefit that we offer. Partly because we’re incredibly proud of it. This remarkable program would not be possible without a collective effort that brings team members together with residents. One resident in particular, Rita Siebenaler, helped launch the program.
“As you know, America is a nation based on people coming,” Rita shared at this year’s celebration at GHBC. “Most of us here today are descendants of people who came to seek a better life, looking for the American dream.” Rita spoke briefly about her grandmother, who emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland by herself at the age of 19.
Rita drew inspiration from her grandmother and other immigrant members of my family. They did not face the same barriers many immigrants face today. “They never had the barriers to U.S. citizenship because of their religion, because of where they came from or because of the financial barriers that exist today,” Rita stated.
Rita’s own family history inspired her to seek support from the organization to launch the program, which has provided 115 grants since 2018. Of those grants, 108 have gone to team members and seven have gone to family members. Extending grants to family members was started just this year.
Echoes of Rita’s family history can be heard in the stories shared at this year’s events. Yehuala, Ali and other panelists talked about how they were seeking opportunity. They also shared why citizenship is so important to them.
“Being a citizen, you are fully complete,” commented Yehuala. “You are belonging to something.”
“For me, becoming a U.S. citizen was much more than just having a U.S. passport,” said Ali. “It was about representing the U.S. values of equity, inclusion, opportunity for all and so much more. It was about defending those values and living by them. And that is the main reason why I became a U.S. citizen. I am today proud to be an American.”
Yehuala also talked about the team effort, including daily support she feels she gets from the workplace. “We are like family,” she said. “And when you work as a team, nothing is impossible. We can do it!”
We thank everyone who makes this program possible. This isn’t just about building a stronger team at Goodwin Living, though that is incredibly important to us. But we know that the program makes us part of something much bigger. As Senator Warner commented, “Together, we build a stronger America.”
As Corporate Director of Marketing & Communications, Kathie Miller provides strategic guidance and tactical support for all areas of Goodwin Living. She writes, edits and manages The Good Life blog and newsletter. Kathie joined GHI in 2014 after nearly 15 years at NPR, where she honed her skills in brand and reputation management, content marketing and internal communications. Originally from Pennsylvania, Kathie has slowly come to realize she’s lived in Arlington for more than half her life and should call herself a Virginian. She enjoys the outdoors and brings her rescue dog, Remi, to work every day.