Giving Back: Thank You Brooks Global Elementary!

This month the AWESOME kids at Brooks Global Elementary collected an entire pick up truck full of supplies for newly arrived refugee families.


Lead by the 5th Grade Classroom as part of their unit on Cultivating Kindness (you know it’s a great school when kindness is built into the curriculum!), students from all grades collected cleaning supplies, toiletries, blankets and pillows to fill the homes of refugees yet to arrive in the U.S.

Not only did they gather over a truckload of necessities, but they went a step further by putting the toiletries together into little kits with hand written messages of welcome. Better still, they wrote these messages not only in English, but in some of the languages of the families that will be using them!


These kids make us remember what the spirit of this season is all about. In addition to their drive for CWS, they’ve been writing to pen pals in refugee camps overseas and their 5th Grade teacher has been serving as an incredible volunteer and mentor with a refugee family here in Greensboro.

We can not say enough about Brooks Global Elementary and what their kindness means to us and to our community. THANK YOU a thousand times over. Greensboro is lucky to have such great young people in our city!

DREAMers Prepare for CWS Global Summit on Immigration Reform

Gerardo Vicente-Villafana

Gerardo Vicente-Villafaña (pictured above), a DREAMer, will journey with his brother, Jesus, to Washington D.C. in October to urge Representatives to vote for compassionate Immigration Reform at the CWS Global Summit.  His story and hopes are recorded below.

Gerardo Vicente-Villafaña

I just remember coming to the United States when I was three years old.  My family brought me here to have a better life, to have better opportunities.  The American Dream is one of the things that influenced my parents to come here.

It was difficult because I did not have rights before.  I could not do things that other people could, like apply for a job, play sports, because they usually ask me for documents.  Things that a typical teenager would want to do but could not exactly.

The DREAM Act gave us hope.

Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals gave us an opportunity to do what we came here for.  Generally, people who are here undocumented do not have the same rights as others.  They do the same amount of work, but get paid less.

For people who are still here and undocumented, the important thing is an education and do not lose hope.

There are people who want to come here and be successful.  What if you have someone who wants to come here and, for example, be a doctor that could be the person that cures cancer, but you are limiting them.  Everyone should have the opportunity to pursue that dream.

I hope that the law progresses, that other people who came here at a young age, not just students, not just those who came here under the age of 16.

If it was not for the immigrants’ rights groups, churches, and other organizations that fight for immigrants’ rights, we would not be here in this position.

Now that I have work authorization, I would like to go to a 2 or 4 year college and study technology, medicine, and industry.

With my first paycheck, I will save that money.

In August 2012, CWS received a grant to help support the application process for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a 2 year work permit for Dreamers, a temporary status.  Temporary until Congress passes Comprehensive Immigration Reform. 


The staff here at CWS Greensboro sadly bid farewell to one of our own a few weeks back when Employment Specialist Kristi Nickodem left for the next step in her professional journey. Kristi started with CWS Greensboro when the office first opened and has been such an integral part of our team ever since. Though she will be missed, her impact will not be forgotten. Preparing to start Law School this week, Kristi took some time to share her reflections on her time at CWS and we’re thrilled to share them below.

Kristi helping refugee clients learn to use the computer lab.

Kristi helping refugee clients learn to use the computer lab.


A few weeks ago, I ended a wonderful journey of working at CWS Greensboro, after deciding to attend law school this fall.

I started volunteering with CWS in 2009, when I was attending summer school and wanted to do something constructive with my free time. Little did I know that I would still be at CWS in 2013 as an Employment Specialist, helping newly arrived refugees to find jobs and become self-sufficient members of the Greensboro community.  It is amazing to look back and see how one small decision to volunteer ended up changing the course of my life and my career.

On my last week at CWS, one of my former clients shared a memory with me after I told him I was leaving. He said when his family first arrived in the CWS office, they were tired, overwhelmed, and unsure of what to expect. When I walked in the room to talk to the family about their employment history, I introduced myself in Nepali. Our Nepali speaking case manager, Badal, taught me a few phrases, and I always enjoyed seeing smiles and laughter when I would attempt to use them. My former client recalled that just hearing a few phrases of Nepali from an American (though it was woefully mispronounced, I am sure) was incredibly comforting. He said for the first time, his family breathed a sigh of relief about their new community because they felt welcome. His story reminded me that the smallest gesture can mean so much to a newcomer. A welcoming community is made up of simple actions: smiles, kind words, and patience.

It is hard to sum up all the emotions and memories from my time at CWS. There have been hundreds of brave, kind refugee clients who have inspired and changed me in so many ways. If I could condense what these courageous individuals have taught me over the last three years, I would use the words perspective and gratitude. Working with individuals who are starting over their lives in America with such limited resources has given me such a different perspective on my life. When I consider how little my clients had when they first arrived, and how they must rebuild new careers and new friendships from the bottom up, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude and disbelief at how much I truly have.

Kristi with her long time co-worker in Employment, Valerie Coll

Kristi with her long time co-worker in Employment, Valerie Coll

When I face difficult situations in my life, I am able to reflect on the myriad of painful experience that my clients have gone through in their lives, including violence, intimidation, abuse, torture, loss of home, and loss of family. Hearing the firsthand accounts from refugees who have gone through such brutality and oppression has been one of the most emotionally challenging elements of my job, but these experiences also serve as a lens through which I can view my own life, bringing tremendous perspective to every hardship I will ever go through. Their stories make me deeply grateful for the simplest blessings in my life: my family, my home, and my ability to live in peace and freedom. I have seen that refugees bring an incredible resilience into their new communities, leading them to become dedicated employees, motivated students, and remarkably optimistic, joyful individuals. Their ability to persevere and to thrive in the face of unbelievable obstacles continually humbles me.

After only a few weeks of being away from CWS Greensboro, I find myself missing the faces of the refugees who used to be a part of my daily life. One lovely face in particular sticks in my mind from a conversation on my last week at work. I spoke with a wonderful young woman who came as a refugee from Eritrea, and asked her what she liked most about America. A broad smile came across her face, and she exclaimed “Now I am free to marry anyone I want!” She went on to explain how many women in her country were forced into marriages against their will, and how she had long been afraid of this fate herself. I am so thankful that this young woman will have the ability to choose her own life path in the United States, and I am proud to have worked with an organization that helps hundreds of individuals begin their new lives of freedom and peace every year.

As I embark on my first day of law school today, I carry the memory of this young woman and so many other courageous CWS clients with me, propelling me towards a future of advocating for refugees and immigrants to have a voice in our complex legal system. I will be forever grateful to my refugee clients for the laughs they shared with me, the hospitality they have shown me, the lessons they have taught me, and the kindness they have offered me during my years at CWS Greensboro.


From all of us in the CWS family – THANK YOU for making the world a better place. Now go show Law School what you’re made of!

staff photo kristiCWS Greensboro Staff at Kristi’s Going Away Party

THANK YOU Summer Legal Interns!!

THANK YOU, Breonna, Devon and LaRita!!


Breonna Hammond, Wake Forest School of Law, J.D. Candidate, class of 2014, is interested in immigration and transactional law. Breonna is spending this summer working as a CWS Immigration Legal Intern, a reference research assistant for the Worrell Professional Center Library and at the Wake Forest School of Law Innocence and Justice Clinic. She has spent her summer with CWS working with crime victims and citizenship applicants. 




Johnson, Devon(1)


Devon Johnson (pictured right), Elon Law School, Class of 2015, contributed to the Summer 2013 Legal  Immigration program with her previous private practice experience and fluency in Spanish.  She assisted in translating birth certificates, writing briefs for victims of crimes, and working on family based petitions.



LaRita Dingle (pictured below), Wake Forest University School of Law, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2015, is ambitious about client advocacy. This summer LaRita helped clients with disabilities that affect their ability to take the civics test for naturalization complete a Medical Certification for Disability Exception. She filed petitions for refugees seeking to help their family members abroad. The highlight of LaRita’s summer was assisting clients who were victims of crimes with their petitions for U-1 Visas and helping clients build evidence for their Violence Against Women Act petitions.

LaRita Laughing Citizenship

LaRita Lynn Dingle helping clients

Happy World Refugee Day

For more than a decade, June 20th has been held aside as a day to remember and honor the world’s staggering 43.7 million refugees and internally displaced persons.

cutiesFor those of us who have walked alongside any one of these refugees during their journey to peace and safety, we know that within that statistic of 43.7 million we find 43.7 individuals; human beings who, were it not for being on the wrong side of the wrong line at the wrong time, might have carried on peaceful lives. When we begin to know refugees, we find families who, when not struggling with providing food and shelter and safety, are struggling to get their children to go to bed on time or share their candy with their sister. We find young men and women who want more than anything to really be someone and we find grandmothers and grandfathers who pray that the generations that follow should know more comfort than they have had.

What makes refugees different from many others is not that they have struggled, struggle in and of itself is nearly universal. It is that in addition to physical hardship, they have faced a forceful displacement not just from their places of residence but from their homelands. They have been made to feel – in the most inhumane ways imaginable – that they do not belong.

As individuals and non-profits and communities, we cannot remove all of the injustice from the world; we cannot hope to stop all suffering or to right all wrongs. We CAN however choose to offer comfort and welcome to those among us who have had none. We can help refugees transition from those who are fleeing to those who are home. We can work to help turn the word refugee into neighbor, friend and one day citizen. We can choose to walk beside instead of in front of those who have been left behind. We can smile and say with our eyes, “you are welcome here”. We can do this today.

We hope that in honor of today’s World Refugee Day, you’ll think about what you can do to offer welcome and that you’ll take action.

How You Can Help

  • Volunteer as an individual or as part of a Welcoming Committee to befriend a newly arrived refugee family during their first few months in the country. Help them learn their new community, practice English and meet new people.
  • Donate your household items, money or muscles to help CWS set up homes for newly arrived refugees. We do approximately 60 apartment set ups a year and can ALWAYS use help!
  • Provide financial support to help programs like the Cultural Orientation for Refugee Empowerment, Employment Readiness Training or Refugee Community Gardens continue to thrive.
  • Sign up to be a tutor working one-on-one or in the classroom with newcomers or with those who are studying to pass the Citizenship test.
  • Take the time to learn and advocate this summer as the US House and Senate work to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform. One of the strongest ways we can stand up against injustice is to prevent it from happening within our own countries, if we believe that human beings should be treated as such regardless of their backgrounds, we must work hard to ensure that that applied to those on our own soil. Learn more at : Advocate
  • Smile when you see someone who looks different than yourself. Make someone’s day brighter, more hopeful than it might have been otherwise.

Come Celebrate Diversity with MOSAIC 2013 Saturday June 8th!

CWS Greensboro Immigration & Refugee Program is proud to host the annual MOSAIC Festival celebrating Diversity and Culture with International Food, Music & Art in Downtown Greensboro. 

SATURDAY JUNE 8th, 12 – 8 p.m., FESTIVAL PARK (200 N. Davie St.). FREE! 

Mosaic Festival 2013 poster 1


As always, the grounds of festival park will convert into a gorgeous global bazaar complete with Ethnic Street Food Fair featuring 20 food vendors from around the world tempting you with delicious ethnic treats. Arts and Craft vendors will line the sidewalks and local non-profits will be on hand to share information about the work they do in welcoming new comers. Be sure to stop into the Culture Expo Tent to watch cooking demonstrations, learn new dance skills or attend workshops on the cultural traditions behind the beautiful art that surrounds you.


Of course, the day wouldn’t be complete without a full line up of incredible musicians and dancers performing throughout the day on two stages. MOSAIC is so thrilled to welcome the internationally acclaimed “King of Bubu Music” Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang hitting the main stage at 4pm. Be surrounded by an entire day of incredible music including Raleigh based Latin/Caribbean sensation Ricardo Diquez & the Tropic Orchestra, Ethiopian Reggae act Dub Addis, Greensboro’s own The Brand New Life.

In between main stage sets, you won’t want to miss the packed schedule on the Mosaic Side Stage where we’ll be highlighting our region’s local talent from all over the world. You’ll find everything from Bhutanese Dance to Indian Harmonium to traditional Mexican Folkloric Ballet and much more. Click here for full line-up and performance schedule.


The Blind Tiger is hosting Mosaic’s first ever benefit after party to support the CWS Immigration & Refugee Services Program.  Show starts at 10pm, doors at 9.  Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang and Dub Addis will be playing full length sets so get ready to dance the night away! Proceeds from the event go to support the festival and the work of festival hosts CWS Greensboro’s Refugee & Immigration Services Program.

We’ll also be raffling off some exciting prizes including a Weekend O’Henry Hotel Package, Tickets to Bonnaroo Music Festival, Pandora Bracelet and tickets to upcoming concerts of The Drive By Truckers and Passion Pit and the Cults!

Special Thanks to BLUEZOOM Media, all of our event sponsors and to our partners at New Arrivals Institute for coordinating the Family and Children’s Area.

Join us on Facebook and Twitter! See you Saturday. 

Sixty-five become U.S. citizens

Check out this great article from the News and Record!

Country Strong: 65 Become US Citizens by Jonnelle Davis, Originally published by News & Record on May 24, 2013

To see wonderful photos from the ceremony, visit: News & Record Photo Gallery



GREENSBORO — Tricia Kennedy’s history as a “horrible” student kept her from applying to become a citizen of the country she had lived in since she was 8 years old.

“I was scared of the test, pretty much,” Kennedy said. “Isn’t that silly?”

But on Friday afternoon, the mother of two young girls walked to the front of a courtroom inside the federal courthouse, stated her name and home country of Mexico and proudly declared she was “Mexican by birth, American by the grace of God.”

On her way back to her seat, Kennedy kissed the hand of her 6-year-old daughter, Scarlett, and handed the child the miniature American flag that had been given to her as a symbol of her citizenship.

Kennedy was among 65 people who took the oath of citizenship Friday before a courtroom full of family, friends and public officials.

Judge William L. Osteen Jr. declared it his favorite job responsibility because “everybody gets to go home happy at the end of the day.”

Osteen and others who participated in the ceremony pointed out to the group that while many are fortunate enough to be born American citizens, they were special because they took on the responsibility to become one.

“You chose to do this,” said attorney Mary Peña, who was guest speaker at the naturalization ceremony. “You were determined.”

As they left their seats and filed one by one to the front of the courtroom, they announced to Osteen and onlookers their names and the countries where they were born: Ghana, Mexico, England, Guatemala, Tanzania, Sweden.

Some spoke loudly and clearly.

Others could barely be heard above the crying babies and clicking cameras.

They accepted the certificates that bore their photographs and proof of citizenship with broad smiles and thumbs up to the audience.

It was a simple ceremony with broad meaning.

They can now vote, a privilege Kennedy said spurred her to become a citizen.

One woman told Osteen she looked forward to checking “U.S. citizen” on employment applications.

Another woman showed her allegiance to the country — and North Carolina — by shouting “Go Heels!” as she accepted her certificate.

Pon Philachanh, 35, said he was overwhelmed by becoming a citizen. It’s something the Laos native thought would never happen, although he admitted he procrastinated.

“My wife actually made me,” said Philachanh, who has lived in America most of his life and whose wife became a citizen a few years ago.

Now that he’s a citizen, Philachanh said he’s looking forward to traveling with his wife.

“I just want to see the world,” he said.

Peña, an attorney with Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, reminded them that, as citizens, they had the responsibility to get involved in their communities, make contributions and tell their stories.

“America is a far, far richer place when you tell your story, your family’s story,” she said.

Kennedy made it her 2012 New Year’s resolution to become a citizen.

She applied on Dec. 12, 2012.

“My time was running out,” she said.

As for that test she was scared to take?

“It’s really easy,” she said.

Contact Jonnelle Davis at (336) 373-7080.