When Maria Christina passed her U.S. Citizenship test, she wept with joy. She prepared for this day for over 20 years. The violence she experienced toward her in the past echoed loudly in her heart every day - violence she worked so hard to forget. Catholic Charities has stood by her through every application and every difficulty she has faced over these years...
“I’ve seen a lot in my life. So much pain I want to leave behind. Still, I’ve always been one to find the light in the darkness, even when it’s hidden. This challenged me to learn new skills so I could always move forward.” She is resilient.
Over the years, Maria Christina taught herself English – both how to read and write it. But when it came to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) test questions, they weren’t what she expected. Maria Christina first took Catholic Charities’ citizenship class over Zoom during the pandemic. She struggled. She did not complete the course but thought she would attempt the test anyway. Unfortunately, she did not pass.
“I’ve worked the vineyards, raised three children, and survived terrible violence – how hard could 100 questions be after all this? When I failed, it was so discouraging!” She didn’t give up.
When she returned to Catholic Charities to try again, Immigration Counselor Teresa Marcelino offered Maria Christina encouragement. “Teresa listened to me with such tenderness. She was eager to give me another chance to pass. For my children, I tried again.”
Maria Christina retook Catholic Charities’ Citizenship Classes in Santa Rosa, this time in person. She received face-to-face, individualized care to help her succeed. Her volunteer teacher, Stella Agudelo, was patient every step of the way. Stella, herself, is an immigrant who was teased and mocked for her own language struggles. Without judgment, they worked through the litany of civics questions.
Last November, Maria Christina became a United States Citizen. She now has the inalienable right to participate fully in society. She can vote, travel abroad, and continue her education free of risk.
“I cried for hours, and my children too - even my boys. We’ve had big plans for so long...now we can move ahead with our lives. I am so thankful!”
Your gift helps Catholic Charities offer citizenship classes for free, and so much more...
When I look out across the community, I see nurses, doctors, farm workers, teachers, and artists who make this one of the most special places in the world. We are blessed to live together in an area with such rich diversity.
Locally, there are institutions that embrace our immigrant community, but our region still has further to go to ensure legal services are accessible, safe, and equitable.
Across Northern California, immigration legal services are still costly, unreliable, and scarce. This scarcity and cost put individuals and families like Maria Christina’s at risk of deepening poverty, homelessness, and horrific human trafficking situations.
As the federal legislative landscape continues to languish, our cherished immigrants continue to live in uncertainty. The future is unclear – but you can help.
Your gift to Catholic Charities helps our team provide affordable and often free services that reunite families and provide legal pathways to individuals seeking to fully integrate into society and freely come out of the shadows.
Catholic Charities is honored to nurture the dignity of our immigrant sisters and brothers among us. Through lived experience, continual evaluation of the legal landscape, and specialized DOJ-Accreditation, we provide 3,000+ legal services annually from Petaluma to the Oregon Border.
98% of our citizenship class students pass their USCIS Citizenship test!
Your donation of...
- $750 can bring the hope of citizenship
- $500 can provide a DACA renewal for a DREAMer
- $250 can deliver outreach to families who need it most
Your gift can be that step forward that changes a life.
Every donation adds up. No matter how large or small, your contributions lead to something extraordinary. Any amount is appreciated.
We can all relate to the immigrant stories that have shaped our community. Thank you for reaching out to our sisters and brothers who are working twice as hard to build a sense of belonging and home.
Together, we can celebrate them and everything that makes our community special.
Jennielynn Holmes | CEO, Catholic Charities
PS - A monthly sustaining donation of $62.50 can be a gift of hope that covers the filing fee for an immigrant pursuing citizenship each year! That's about $2.06 a day...