Joyce Williams, one of more than 25 volunteers at the UCM Progreso Center for Literacy and Citizenship, makes the center a caring place for immigrants. An attorney working in international trade law, she has volunteered two evenings a week since 2013 to provide assistance on immigration and citizenship issues.
Joyce was honored for her years of service at the Feb. 11 Valentine Dinner and Dance, the annual fundraiser for the Progreso Center hosted by Good Shepherd Catholic Church. She is pictured at the event with Herb Lea, acting UCM Executive Director (left), and Cristina Schoendorf, UCM Director at the Progreso Center (right).
"Our part of Fairfax County has a higher proportion of immigrants than other parts of the area," says Cristina. "As a result, the need for English literacy and citizenship services remains high." Founded by Good Shepherd Catholic Church, Progreso Center for Literacy and Citizenship has provided supportive services for almost 15 years. The Center became part of UCM in early 2014. “We have an outstanding reputation for treating Immigrants and their families fairly and compassionately," she continues.
Some Progreso clients request guidance about which immigration form to use or a review of their application paperwork. Complex questions involve the impact of a criminal charge, detention at the border, and immigration status. UCM clients are from various ethnic backgrounds and speak many languages, including Spanish, French, Arabic, and Hindi.
Cristina recalls a family who recently received political asylum for their daughter, thanks to Joyce’s efforts. Sammy had been raised by her father in El Salvador, while her mother had moved to the US in search of the American dream. Sammy was a serious student with good grades. But at age 12, Sammy’s world was turned upside down when her father was shot and killed. Because of this tragedy, Sammy was forced to flee to the US for refuge. She moved in with her mother, stepfather, and other siblings in the Hybla Valley area. She spoke little English, but because her mother had taken ESL and citizenship classes at the UCM Progreso Center, she was able to help her daughter learn English. By the end of 8th grade, Sammy's grades were all A's at her new school.
“I have a special place in my heart for children,” says Joyce. “Working with Victoria and Sammy was a no-brainer for me. I knew I had the ability to help make a difference in their lives. And given the trauma this young girl was facing, I knew I had to help.”
"I Enjoy Volunteering"
"My inspiration to volunteer comes from life experience,” says Joyce. “First is my personal experience with the process as an immigrant.” A native of Ghana, West Africa, Joyce immigrated to the US in 2003, through the Diversity Visa Program. She earned a B.A. in Economics from Campbell University in North Carolina and a Law degree from Arizona Summit Law School.
“Accurate information and assistance is crucial so immigrants can access the appropriate benefits for themselves,” Joyce continues. “I thank our UCM supporters and invite others to ‘let their greatness blossom’ (as Nelson Mandela once said), by volunteering or making a donation to further our impact to help immigrant neighbors create better futures for themselves.
Thank you for your service and dedication, Joyce!
The UCM Progreso Center is just one of the many programs UCM provides to equip, educate, and empower people to improve their lives. Classes are held at the Progreso Center on Mohawk Lane, and at other convenient locations including Gum Springs Community Center, Good Shepherd Catholic Church, and the Sherwood Hall Library.
(Feb. 2017 E-news)