Adams Recieves National AILA Advocacy Award

Angela AdamsThe American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has awarded Immigrant Welcome Center board member, Angela Adams, Associate General Counsel, Indiana University, with the 2015 Advocacy Award for outstanding efforts in support of AILA’s legislative agenda.

Read more about how Angela has devoted her career to enlightening the community about the beauty of immigration, the necessity of immigration reform, and the many other accolades she’s received along the way.

Congratulations, Angela! We appreciate your leadership.


Natural Helper Drives Language Learning Legislation

Pam Gemmer knows a thing or two about volunteering. Being a Natural Helper for the Immigrant Welcome Center is just one role among dozens she holds in the community. A retired teacher, Gemmer put her passion for language and learning to work in the 2015 Indiana General Assembly and played a significant role in getting Senate Bill 267 signed into law.

About the bill
Indiana became the ninth in the nation to pass a biliteracy bill, which recognizes students who demonstrate proficiency in two or more languages with a certificate of biliteracy and designation on their transcript after graduation. In the same measure, lawmakers authorized a dual-language immersion pilot program, which will provide grants to elementary schools for instruction to students in two languages simultaneously.

Pam’s journey
Armed with lessons learned from educators who helped pass similar legislation in Illinois and 37 years of teaching language to elementary and high school students, Pam became the bill’s primary advocate. Other positions as the founder of the Indiana Network for Early Language Learning, past committee chair for the same national organization and a member of the Indiana Foreign Language Teachers Association suited her for the role.

After graduating from Broad Ripple High School, the New York native moved to Mexico City to attend National Autonomous University where she later met her husband. Job offers brought the couple and their two sons back to Indianapolis some years later.

After a time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pam began teaching Spanish emersion classes at Forest Glen Elementary in Lawrence Township. She taught a second language to students in the district and for Indianapolis Public Schools, including many immigrants and refugees, until retiring from Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School in 2012.

“As a teacher, I was always sensitive to the state standards for world language,” said Pam.

Pam is quick to point to research that suggests those who speak multiple languages have better connected neurons, a better chance of recovery after brain trauma and other benefits.

“People who are bilingual have a very special gift to offer the Indiana economy,” said Pam. “It makes them more employable in the workforce. Just ask Lilly and Cummins.”

A lesson in the legislative process
Gemmer got her own lesson in the legislative process and how to navigate through an initial hearing of the bill in January, having it amended and passed by the Education Committee, and then seeing the measure passed by the Senate in a 50 to 0 vote.

The Dual Language Emersion Program was added to the bill while in the House of Representatives. Because seed money was required, the measure also had to go through the House Ways and Means Committee.

“We did not have much opposition,” said Gemmer. “It’s a non-political issue. [The certificates] can be administered at a low cost, and schools and students are already paying for testing.”

What’s next?
Pam will attend meetings across the state, including one with the president of the Indiana Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese and the head of Global Learning in Lafayette this week. With additional input and statistics from other states, the Department of Education will develop a test to assess students’ ability to read and understand the second language.

The DOE will also set the criteria for the dual-language learning grants. Qualified programs provide instruction to a portion of the 52,000 K-12 English Language Learner students in Indiana as reported by the Migration Policy Institute. If all goes accordingly, both programs will be approved by the Indiana Education Commission and available next school year.

“We’ll face new hurdles and challenges, but we will make it happen,” Pam said.

Pam will continue her work in the community at the Nationalities Council of Indiana, Mexican Consulate, volunteering at the fire department and library, La Fiesta and many other cultural events and initiatives. She recently arranged for Crispus Attucks students to serve as interpreters at Eskenazi Health.

“Taking bilingual students into the community really warms my heart,” said Pam. “It’s something I believe in passionately. We’re making a greater, more peaceful world to live in.”

Indianapolis Named 51st Welcoming America City

city of indianapolis logo 2015

        IWC logo

Mayor Ballard affirms Indianapolis as a Welcoming City that respects and embraces the cultural and economic contributions of immigrants

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard recently affirmed Indianapolis’ commitment to identify opportunities to engage Indy’s global immigrant communities and further immigrants’ role in building the local economy as part of the Welcoming America initiative [see attached Proclamation].

Welcoming America is a national, grassroots-driven collaborative that works to promote mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and native-born Americans.

“Being a Welcoming City means celebrating our diversity and welcoming all people,” said Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. “Immigrants not only enhance our workforce and contribute to a more vibrant and global economy, they broaden our perspective and make our neighborhoods and our city stronger. We encourage businesses and residents to join in our effort to expand opportunities and promote inclusion for all residents, including immigrants.”

Indianapolis is already a multicultural city. Residents include more than 120 nationalities and speak 90 different languages. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 8.3 percent of Indianapolis residents are foreign-born. The Migration Policy Institute ranked Indianapolis ninth in population change in the number of foreign-born residents, making it one of the fastest growing immigrant populations in the country.

“For 10 years the Immigrant Welcome Center has been connecting immigrants to local services to ensure they succeed in Indianapolis,” said Terri Morris Downs, Executive Director, Immigrant Welcome Center. “Earlier this year, Indianapolis leaders made a strong statement recognizing the importance of welcoming all to our city.

By seeking this designation, Mayor Ballard extends this welcoming hand to immigrants who enrich our community civically, economically, culturally and socially. We are looking forward to working with leaders from the public and private sectors on policies and best practices that ensure immigrants thrive in Indianapolis.”

Welcoming America provides tools and resources to help participating cities advance their welcoming resolutions [See Mayor Ballard’s Resolution], initiatives and strategies. City leaders also can participate in national and transatlantic learning exchanges that highlight promising practices from globally competitive cities.

The Immigrant Welcome Center already hosts a celebration event as part of National Welcoming Week. Designed to help residents and new immigrants connect and learn about other cultures, the third annual Welcoming Week will be Sept. 13-19, 2015, in Indianapolis.

“We applaud Mayor Ballard for his leadership in recognizing that our diverse population is our greatest asset, and for committing to work in partnership with the community to build a more inclusive and welcoming Indianapolis,” said David Lubell, Executive Director, Welcoming America. “We encourage other leaders in Indiana to follow his lead.”

Indiana Weather a Change for Some Refugees

After watching a group of Ethiopian teenagers walk through the snow wearing abeysandals and no winter coats, Abey, a Natural Helper from the Immigrant Welcome Center, was compelled to help. She recruited friends and together they bought inexpensive coats and blankets to give to the children so their walk to school could be warmer.
“They came from a different climate and weren’t prepared,” said Abey, who is Ethiopian-born and has been in Indianapolis since 1982 (pictured second from the left).
But first, they had to track the kids down. Abey’s friend from Sudan helped her locate the students and translated English to Sudanese so the children could understand.
“People from this region are too proud to accept handouts,” said Abey. “They won’t go to a food line, but will accept help when it is offered, and are always very gracious.”
If smiles are any indication, the students appreciated Abey’s help and the clothes to get them through the cold Indiana winters.

Indian wedding extravaganza blends cultures, old and new

Indy Star, September 14

Priya Patel was married in red. But when the reception to celebrate her wedding began that evening, she appeared in a stunning white gown that cascaded to the floor.

The two dresses symbolized two equally important traditions. In deference to her Hindu heritage, she wore a red with white sari for her wedding ceremony; white is considered a funereal color and red an auspicious one. But she also knew she wanted the full American bridal experience.

Read article.