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In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.

Pope Francis, Address to Congress, September 25, 2015

By Amy Pedagno

When I was a child, my parents fostered a sense of volunteerism and community involvement.  Pancake dinners, angel trees, clothing drives, yard work: you name it, and we were there. 

This idea of service to others carried over into my adult life.  During my studies at a Vincentian university, I was encouraged to live my faith beyond the confines of the college gates, and I volunteered at numerous schools, senior citizen homes, maternity shelters, and hospitals throughout the course of my studies.  While attending law school in southwest Florida, I discovered a passion for immigration law. 

When I moved to the DC-area in late 2012, I immediately sought out a volunteer experience in the immigration field.  Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington’s Hogar Immigrant Services welcomed me with open arms, and I’ve truly found a home here.

For the past three years, I have been teaching a weekly citizenship preparation class run by Hogar Immigrant Services in Woodbridge. 

Hogar classes Arlington Catholic Charities

I have been inspired by the diligent efforts of our students, by their faithful attendance, and by their consistent studying. They work hard to master the English and civics needed to pass their exams, and they do it with patience, humor, and grace.  I think these classes are a beautiful service that Hogar can provide to them, and I’m honored to be a small part of my students’ immigration stories.

I also volunteer at Hogar’s monthly naturalization workshops, where lawful permanent residents who are eligible to apply for citizenship may have their forms prepared, reviewed by attorneys, and filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

Over the course of my life, I have volunteered with countless organizations—both local groups and national organizations.  I can say without a doubt that I have never been to an event as organized as Hogar’s naturalization workshops are. 

From a legal perspective, each individual’s application is reviewed by numerous attorneys or Board of Immigration Appeals Accredited Representatives. There are many checks and balances put into place so that clients are best served by the workshops. 

From a logistics perspective, the clinics are organized into stations that make it easy to ensure we’re seeing clients in order and no one gets lost in the shuffle.  New volunteer training is easy and occurs while seasoned volunteers and staff are getting set up and seeing the first clients at the early stations.  Breakfast and lunch are provided to the volunteers, and because of the nature of the day, individuals who need to leave early or come late are able to do so with ease.

I genuinely enjoy my volunteer work with Hogar Immigrant Services, and I encourage anyone looking to get involved in their community to consider volunteering here. I can think of no better way to answer our call to welcome the stranger among us (Matthew 25:35).

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Get involved with the work of welcoming the stranger through Hogar Immigrant Services. Consider making a gift to support the work of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington with your prayers, your time, and one-time or recurring donations.