Transforming Dreams into Citizenship: The Success of the One Napa Valley Initiative

Volunteers and applicants work to fill in U.S. citizenship applications at a citizenship workshop hosted at Congregation Beth Shalom, in Napa, Calif. The workshops are a core part of the One Napa Valley Initiative launched by Napa Valley Community Foundation in 2013. The Initiative includes four nonprofit partner agencies who collaborate to host monthly citizenship workshops, and offer U.S. History and Civics classes to residents who are eligible for U.S. citizenship.

Since its launch in 2013, our One Napa Valley Initiative (ONVI) has profoundly transformed the Napa Valley community, turning the dream of U.S. citizenship into a tangible reality for thousands. Spearheaded by Napa Valley Community Foundation, this program is a testament to the power of collaboration among four key nonprofit partners: Immigration Institute of the Bay Area, On the Move, Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center, and UpValley Family Centers. Together, these organizations have crafted a seamless approach to navigating the complexities of naturalization.

More than 2,388 hardworking community members have gained citizenship through ONVI, and with a remarkable success rate of 98 percent, the collaborative approach to assisting lawful permanent residents (also known as “green card” holders) in becoming U.S. citizens is a model for other communities.

Comprehensive Workshops and Support

At the heart of ONVI’s success are the monthly immigration workshops that provide hands-on assistance for people applying for citizenship. These workshops pair lawful permanent residents with trained volunteers, creating a supportive environment in which to traverse the complex and daunting application process. During these sessions, English and Spanish-speaking volunteers work closely with applicants to fill out detailed forms and prepare for the citizenship exam.

At our April workshop held at Congregation Beth Shalom in Napa, the room buzzed with a mix of excitement and nervous anticipation. Here, 25 volunteers worked side-by-side with 37 applicants, meticulously helping them find their way through a dense forest of and preparing them for the challenges of the citizenship exam.

Ensuring Success with Legal Expertise and Pre-Screening

A key component of these workshops includes a pre-screening process to ensure that participants are eligible for citizenship before they arrive. This preparatory step is critical in maintaining the initiative’s high acceptance rate. Legal experts from IIBA are always available to address any concerns on the spot, providing additional reassurance to applicants. Before their applications are filed, IIBA offers a final review and one-on-one sessions to go over the applications in detail.

Past program participant and current workshop volunteer Maria Pantoja is passionate about the program. Without it, she fears many would get lost negotiating the complex and costly path to citizenship on their own. “The fact that there are low- or no-cost attorneys really helped me because it is expensive,” she explains. “If you make a simple mistake, your application can be denied, and it costs you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. When people are trying to survive, where are they going to get that?”

Beyond the Application: Education and Preparation for Citizenship

ONVI doesn’t just help residents fill out forms; it also prepares them for what comes next. Applicants have the opportunity to participate in U.S. History and Civics classes, offered both in-person and remotely, to ensure they are well-prepared for the citizenship exam and interview. Volunteers also offer one-on-one tutoring sessions, which simulate the interview process, helping to ease applicant nerves and bolster confidence.

Community Impact and Support

The impact of ONVI on the community is profound and far-reaching. Since 2013, the initiative has helped 2,388 residents become U.S. citizens; volunteers have provided more than 13,700 hours of service; and 12,382 locals have received free legal consultations.

Today, more than 500 applicants have submitted their paperwork and are awaiting their citizenship interviews with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. They aren’t just waiting in the wings, they are diligently getting ready for one of the most important days of their lives: the day they pass their exam, take the oath of citizenship and become full-fledged members of our community.

Before we launched ONVI, about 15-20 people were naturalizing each year in the Valley. Today, those numbers have grown to 15-20 each month. The structured support the program offers is removing barriers, creating opportunities, and enriching the whole community one citizen at a time.

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