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Welcoming Week in Gainesville Highlights City’s Effort to Help Immigrants

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Daniel Valdez witnessed 42 immigrants become naturalized American citizens at Gainesville’s federal courthouse Thursday, which reminded him of when he took the same oath 11 years ago.

Paula Roetscher speaks at Welcoming Week Proclamation on Thursday. Also pictured: Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe and Alachua County commissioner Robert Hutchinson. (Jessica Gonzalez/WUFT News)
Paula Roetscher speaks at Welcoming Week Proclamation on Thursday. Also pictured: Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe and Alachua County commissioner Robert Hutchinson. (Jessica Gonzalez/WUFT News)

Now the regional manager of Welcoming America in the Southeast, Valdez, 30, spoke at the city’s Welcoming Week Proclamation.

“Today, Gainesville has an opportunity to help those new Americans feel like they are welcome and to help them be part of the local fabric,” he said.

The ceremony was held to promote Welcoming Gainesville, an organization aimed to help immigrants adapt to life in America.

Welcoming Gainesville is holding events nearly every day in honor of Welcoming Week until Sept. 25. Some of the events offer assistance to immigrants applying for citizenship.

Paula Roetscher, a German UF alumna, helped spearhead the organization soon after Gainesville became Florida’s first welcoming city in the spring.

Although she used resources while she was an international student at UF, Roetscher said the most difficult part about adjusting to the U.S. was learning about our culture and bettering her English.

Roetscher said it took her about three years to feel part of the Gainesville community.

“When it comes to making friends and trying to imagine yourself living in the United States, that’s a very long process,” she said.

Roetscher hopes to expedite the process for others through this organization, and one of the group’s current focuses is gathering volunteers to help teach English.

Theresa Sterling, the literacy coordinator at the Alachua County Library District, said she has recently spoken to Roetscher to help new English-language tutors feel comfortable teaching.

The two are also discussing possible libraries to hold monthly meetings for the organization. Although no locations have been confirmed, the goal is to use a library that is in proximity to the immigrants who wish to utilize it.

“We’re trying to find a space for them not to feel isolated,” Sterling said.

About Jessica Gonzalez

Jessica Gonzalez is a reporter at WUFT News. She can be contacted at 352-392-5551. Her Twitter handle is @JessicaGville.

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