Civic Engagement: Gaining A Voice

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Four Wisconsin State Legislators welcomed a group of refugees from International Learning Center (ILC), a program of Neighborhood House of Milwaukee in Madison last week, Tuesday February 10, 2015. The adult students met with legislators Chris Larson, Evan Goyke, Jonathan Brostoff, and Christine Sinicki to discuss expanding a key college aid program for minorities. The meeting was a powerful civics lesson for the adult students, many of whom come from countries that lack a functioning democracy, and a boost to their preparation for the rigorous US citizenship exam, and for those who heard their concerns. International Learning Center’s Citizenship program has been in existence since the 1980s and is accredited by the US Board of Immigration Appeals.

The group, which includes refugees from Southeast Asia and Africa, advocated for changes to the state’s Minority Retention Grant, a college aid program targeting under-represented and under-resourced groups. The grant, which was legislated in the wake of the Viet Nam war, currently benefits only refugees from Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia, in addition to African-American and Hispanic minorities. The group would like to see the grant’s benefits expanded to include all refugee groups, as they are all minorities with low representation in higher education and/or low income.

The proposal to change the Minority Retention Grant was initiated by a refugee from Burma who, after attaining his GED, found he was excluded from significant college aid because he is from an ethnic group not specifically named in the grant. Sen. Larson, who serves on the Senate Committee on Education, and Rep. Sinicki, who serves on the Assembly Committee on Education, agreed to draft legislation expanding language in the grant to make it more inclusive.

The refugees also expressed concerns about changes to the FoodShare program. Say Wah, a refugee from Burma, reminded legislators of how the new FoodShare cuts going into effect will impact her adult children who would like to pursue college but have restricted access to grants and less support from that program. A photo exhibition in the rotunda, Hunger Next Door, sponsored by Hunger Task Force, shed light on the difficult economic choices facing many families.

Many thanks to Milwaukee Peace Corps Association whose grant provided transportation for the group.

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Holiday Party is a Massive Multicultural Feast

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Scenes from the annual Holiday Party at International Learning Center – a massive multicultural feast of food, music, friendship!

Performances included a tribute to Woody Guthrie (with support from Paul Cebar); four-part harmonies from Karen singers; elders from Burma, China, and Congo shaking it up; a Burmese beauty queen reminding us of the value of learning; traditional carols sung by people from many nations; and pre-schoolers showing off their ABCs.

Special thanks to instructor Jean Richie and the good folk of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Germantown whose Giving Tree provided Christmas gifts for all; Susan and Mary Maronek whose constant flow of donated clothing has helped many a newcomer stay warm in these Milwaukee winters; and to the thirty-five volunteers who tutored English and citizenship.

A shout-out to guests from the resettlement community: Deb Rakowski, Claire Reuning, Natasa Torbica, Craig Stone, Valerie, Joann… the list goes on!

LISTEN TO ILC STUDENTS on Radio 88.9 – a big thanks to Dori Zori for posting this great radio story about the big dreams, hard work, and English under construction at International Learning Center!


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ILC students at Gallery Night with Hunger Task Force

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ILC students Ta Lah Aeet, his wife, Mu Tah, and their three children were among those featured in an unusual and moving photo project that made its debut on Gallery Night, Oct. 17th, 2014 in Hudson Business Cafe in the Third Ward. The exhibit highlights people who are ineligible for FoodShare (not just ILC students), due to their income, but are still greatly in need of the benefit. The exhibit depicts their day to day lives and struggles.

The project illustrates the reality of hunger in our community. Five families were given digital cameras to tell their story through photos. These families shared their privacy with the hope of changing how we view, understand and work to solve hunger.

Each family took photos capturing the challenges they face on a daily basis, and the ways they make ends meet so they can continue to feed themselves. These photos represent the untold stories of an alarming number of Wisconsinites who know what it’s like to worry about having enough food. Each year, 1 in 4 families in our community struggle with hunger.

We encourage you to attend and support our students, and all individuals facing this hardship. We are grateful to our in-house Hunger Task Force Advocate Jan (Mar Mar Ling) who has contributed so much to our community by assisting our students in FoodShare and WI Access benefits.

More here:

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Our New In-houses Advocates: Hunger Task Force

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If you’ve ever tried to apply for health care or other assistance, you know how confusing it can be. Imagine the challenge for someone new to the country, with limited English and literacy skills.

This summer, ILC is launching a new partnership with Hunger Task Force to help refugee students apply for Food Share and other benefits. In-house Advocates are available to assist anyone with Food Share, W2 and child care applications and renewals.  “This is a great partnership for our students,” said ILC Instructional Supervisor Cynthia Zarazua. The service fills a real need in the refugee community: convenient access to social services, with language support and advocacy. These services are available to everyone in the community.

Self-sufficiency can be a struggle for adult refugees. Workers with limited English are often limited to low-wage jobs, and may cycle in and out of temporary and seasonal work. Keeping up-to-date with benefits can be both daunting, and essential for building a new life in the US. ILC’s partnership with Hunger Task Force empowers refugees to understand and navigate the social service systems that are available to them.

Hunger Task Force believes that every person has a right to adequate food obtained with dignity, and was responsible for bringing 175 donated turkeys to ILC at Thanksgiving last year!

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Soccer Tournament Showcases Refugee Talent

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“I never cease to be amazed how funny and entertaining it can be to chase a ball around on a space of grass…I have witnessed and shared in some moments of serious laughter and real joy with this group of guys, despite the many hardships in their lives. We have been practicing and I have been really impressed with some of the students’ skills.” Coach Patrick Rich shared his thoughts on the recent World Refugee Soccer Tournament.

Twelve teams participated in the tournament.  ILC’s team had Karen, Chin, Burmese, Arakan, Rohingya ehtnic groups represented. Players from at least 5 countries (Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Eritrea, USA) participated in the tournament. The winner will receive a trophy at Milwaukee’s World Refugee Day celebration.

Special thanks to Kevin Brennan, head coach of the Cardinal Stritch University soccer team for the jerseys, NH’s Mike Majer for driving, Nang Kham for interpreting, Elizabeth Miller for the photos, Patrick Rich for instigating and coaching, and to all the ILC students and fans who led the charge.

World Refugee Day is taking place Friday, June 20th at Pere Marquette park, 11am – 2pm.

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Literacy through experience: the community garden

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ILC students enjoy participating in Urban Eden, a community garden just outside the school on 26th St. This year, four students have rented beds for themselves and their families, and three beds were donated to the ILC for general use. Donations also help subsidize bed rental for low income students.

This month students helped fill beds with compost, planted in the flower beds, picked up trash in the area. We’re looking forward to using this outdoor classroom throughout the summer. Community partners Central United Methodist Church, St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Kompost Kids, and Michigan Avenue neighbors all share space and resources at the garden, now in its fifth season.

A few beds are still available!

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