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Cities for Citizenship: a Citi Partnership expands

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This Refugee Awareness Month, the International Rescue Committee in Los Angeles is celebrating its work with Citi Community Development, a visionary long-time partner.  The relationship between IRC and Citi goes back to early discussions in 2012, but the partnership really hit its stride two years later. Ever since, their work together has gotten stronger and broader, to the great benefit of refugee and immigrant communities throughout Los Angeles.

The catalyst for the IRC-Citi relationship was Cities For Citizenship (C4C), a national initiative that started in 2014 and aims to increase citizenship and financial inclusion among eligible U.S. permanent residents. Citi is the founding corporate partner without which the initiative would not exist.

A founding corporate partner

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti, who chairs C4C with the mayors of Chicago and New York, made the initiative his signature citizenship-building program. He selected IRC as one of just five organizations—and the only refugee resettlement agency—to implement his plan. The result has been extraordinary.

From the very beginning, IRC considered financial education a perfect complement to citizenship education, and perhaps the best way to promote new Americans’ civic engagement. It started eight-week classes in Los Angeles Public Library branches and soon added other complementary programs, like financial coaching and counseling and access to asset-building products designed specifically for immigrants. As the program model grew, so did its reputation, and soon librarians all over the city were asking IRC to start classes in their branches. 

A citizenship class takes place at one of the local library branches. Photo: Courtnay Robbins

Since the first classes back in 2014, IRC has served more than 2,600 eligible U.S. permanent residents, making them and their communities stronger and more resilient. Today, it has a trained corps of staff and volunteer instructors that provides classes and other services in as many as 16 libraries simultaneously. And, IRC’s C4C model is beginning to be replicated elsewhere in the country, with IRC’s office in Seattle starting its own library program this year. The program got even greater exposure last month, when it was presented to librarians attending the American Library Association’s 2019 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.

None of it would have been possible without Citi’s imagination and support. The positive impact has been felt by no one more keenly than immigrants themselves. 

“I’m so grateful for the training, it really changed my life”

“I’m so grateful for the training, it really changed my life,” said Dora Commelli, an immigrant from Guatemala who participated in the program with her husband, both now U.S. citizens. “It gave me a new kind of confidence and I really have a kind of value as an American citizen that I never could have imagined.”

The program’s manager, Jonathan Fein Proaño, sees it every day. “We expected to help immigrants become new citizens and open bank accounts,” said Fein Proaño, “but we never expected them to feel as empowered or as welcome, to feel like they’re full-fledged members of their communities.”

“When we began,” said Martin Zogg, IRC’s executive director in Los Angeles, “we knew we had a partner that wanted to make a difference not just in the lives of individual immigrants, but in the way civic engagement can happen for immigrants. Citi wanted to change the very system of engagement, and in this program, with Mayor Garcetti and the Los Angeles Public Library, it has.”