Photo provided by Project Hope

Argelia Santillan (left) and her mentor Asuncion Riquelme Maldonado work together during a citizenship class through the Project Hope program in Archbold, Ohio.

Over the past 12 years, Project Hope- Proyecto Esperanza in Archbold, Ohio, has assisted over 2,500 people with various immigration needs.

MCC partners with Project Hope by providing grants, including for the latest program aimed at Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) who are unfamiliar with the requirements for naturalization. Project Hope works to assist LPRs through the process of applying for citizenship through classes, one-one-on consultations and by matching them up with community volunteers from local churches who serve as mentors in the process.

“The journey to citizenship is long, complicated and expensive,” said Sister Andrea Inkrott, one of the program’s leaders. “Project Hope is one of the very few non-profit, recognized organizations in Ohio and the only one in the northwest corner of Ohio that offers this service at nominal fees.”

According to Sister Inkrott, the program, housed at Zion Mennonite Church, also provides a welcoming atmosphere for immigrants and helps them integrate into the wider community. The mentors play a key role in this part of the program by helping with preparation for the citizenship interview and building language skills, but also by building friendships.

"I'm excited to be involved with the Project Hope initiative,” said Gary Friesen, a retired school teacher who is serving as one of the mentors. “It is personally rewarding for me to help mentor my now friend, Francisco, as he works hard to achieve his goal of becoming a citizen. We need people like Francisco to join the mosaic of our community. We need his uniqueness and cultural flavors to help make us a richer community."

Mentors and community members also join immigrants for annual citizenship celebrations and the biennial multicultural fiestas.

According to Sister Inkrott, assisting one member of a family often leads to other family members gaining immigration benefits as well. Gloria Maldonado was able to become a legal permanent resident, along with her three daughters, through her sister. After waiting the required five years, Gloria applied for naturalization and, with the help of Project Hope, was sworn in as a citizen last year. Eventually her three daughters all obtained their citizenship with assistance from Project Hope as well.

“Project Hope is delighted to have had a role in bringing about this family’s immigration story and looks forward to assisting other individuals and families,” said Sister Inkrott.

“We enjoy working with the program because it is necessary, and it serves those whom we believe Jesús was referring to when He said, ‘Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me,’” reflected Sister Inkrott. “And because we see the immigrants who come to us for assistance as our brothers and sisters, members of God’s one big family.”