A Dream for New Americans
by Tara Grubbs
The American Dream Initiative, a program designed to help integrate immigrants into the community, is getting its start in Northwest Arkansas. The University of Arkansas, Walmart and other organizations have become partners in this effort to help immigrants connect with resources enabling them to integrate into society.
The initiative, which was created by the Cisneros’s Center for New Americans, focuses on communities, such as Springdale and Rogers, that have a growing immigrant population, and where the infrastructure for incorporating these new residents into society is still developing.
Henry Cisneros, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton and founder of the Cisneros Center, introduced the initiative during a lecture he gave at the university Oct. 23, 2014.
"While our political leaders focus on a workable legal framework for a successful immigration policy, I believe our nation, through our educational, social and economic institutions, will be called to work smarter and in even greater partnership and create programs that foster the full integration of immigrants into American Society," Cisneros said.
In the same spirit of Senator J. William Fulbright’s international exchange program, which was, in Fulbright’s words, “designed to continue the process of humanizing mankind to the point, we would hope, that men can learn to live in peace—eventually even to cooperate in constructive activities rather than compete in a mindless contest of mutual destruction,” the American Dream Initiative also seeks to achieve civic harmony by increasing peace though education and cultural understanding.
University of Arkansas Chancellor G. David Gearhart and University Professor of sociology Bill Schwab have become champions for the initiative and played a role in the choice of Northwest Arkansas as it’s inaugural location.
Schwab has been studying Northwest Arkansas’ Hispanic community since 2007. His contributions at the national level include work with organizations such as the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Office of University Partnerships in the U.S. State Department.
"The University of Arkansas and many other groups have partnered with the American Dream Initiative because it is in the region’s best interest to integrate immigrants into the Northwest Arkansas community," Schwab said.
Schwab and Cisneros met in Springdale in April 2013 when Cisneros served as keynote speaker for the Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas 13th annual conference. Since then, Schwab has been consulting with the Cisneros Center on immigration in Northwest Arkansas and working closely with the center’s director Nicholas Perilla.
"We chose [Northwest Arkansas] because of the shift in demographics,” Perilla said. “The need was there, and leaders in the area are ready to take on this work."
One key aspect of the program is the incorporation of American Dream Fellows and American Dream Leaders. The fellows and leaders work in tandem to help immigrants integrate through using “The American Dream Road Map.” The road map consists of a ten-point life plan, which includes using English as the family’s primary language, becoming model citizens, instilling the importance of family, health and education, and keeping their home countries in their hearts while committing to their obligations in the United States.
The American Dream Fellows go through an extensive application and interview process to be chosen for a 13-month commitment to serve in a host community. Once selected, fellows spend four weeks training the Cisneros Center in San Antonio before beginning their residency.
While in residence, fellows have many obligations and opportunities. They assist host communities in developing comprehensive immigrant integration plans with a special focus on education. They work with local leaders to identify financial resources for host community programs and marshal community assets to forge an effective ecosystem of services.
Developing an immigrant integration toolkit is another of the fellows’ responsibilities. The kit includes best practices and resources specific to the needs of each community. While going through the process, fellows evaluate and document successful practices for replication to scale and assemble insights and experiences to provide support for the ongoing national policy dialogue.
Jennifer Aguire, Jacob Perry and Jessica Boyd were chosen for the pilot program. The three fellows began their Northwest Arkansas residency in July 2014 and will continue working in the area through August 2015.
The fellows receive guidance and support from American Dream Leaders who are recruited from within the host community. Assisted by The Cisneros Center, these proven local leaders provide insight. Together, the leaders and fellows identify the region’s most urgent needs and develop strategies to address them. Leaders serve a dual role as community representatives to the network of local stakeholders and a voice for the American Dream Initiative in the public.
The American Dream Initiative, with the dedication of its fellows, community leaders and local organizations and businesses, will use knowledge, programs and resources that are already available to help immigrants from many different countries and backgrounds integrate. The ultimate goal is to strengthen the area and build its resilience through education, understanding and pubic infrastructure, and create a blueprint for other regions to follow. Using the lessons learned in Northwest Arkansas, the Cisneros Center will implement the initiative in other communities throughout the United States.