Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz
I am proud to call myself an Arlingtonian. One of the reasons for this pride is that I believe our community recognizes the importance of creating opportunities for all to succeed regardless of one’s country of origin and/or immigration status. Ours is an inclusive community that proactively gets involved in the process of effecting positive change, especially on education-related matters.
My blended Welsh, Latin American, Jewish and German heritage as well as my having been born outside of the United States and having migrated here at the age of 16 enables me to see immigration from different angles.
I am the descendant of different immigrant communities and experiences. Some of my ancestors sought new and better economic opportunities in the New World (working the mines in Pennsylvania and working the land in Guatemala) and others had to flee Austria to survive fascism and the Holocaust. For those who came to the United States, this country granted them the opportunity to achieve a better life through hard work, service, and education.
Post-secondary education continues to be a critical pathway toward achieving the American Dream. Here in Arlington, we have an amazing organization providing opportunities for low- and moderate-income immigrant youth to be given a shot at achieving the American Dream.
For the past two years, I have had the privilege of being on the Board of Directors of the Arlington-based Dream Project. Dream Project is a non-profit organization with a mission to empower students whose immigration status – over which most had no control — creates barriers to education by working with them to access and succeed in college through scholarships, mentoring, family engagement, and advocacy.
On June 10, Dream Project hosted the 2016 Scholarship Awards Ceremony at Wakefield High School. On that day, we awarded college scholarships to 76 hard-working young immigrant scholars who graduated from high schools in Northern Virginia.
The young scholars came to the United States from countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
While we are pleased to be able to assist dozens of young scholars in their quest to become American success stories, there is still a lot more work to be done. Just this year, we received over 115 scholarship applications from seniors in more than 15 Northern Virginia high schools as well as from college students who graduated from high schools in this region. Our mentoring program is also assisting students from Arlington, Fairfax County, the City of Alexandria, and even from Prince William County, a jurisdiction that at times has been at the forefront of anti-immigrant legislative efforts.
I encourage you to be part of our efforts to build bridges and not walls amongst the multiple ethnic and national groups that make up our community.
The logic behind supporting and empowering these immigrant neighbors is simple: the better educated these scholars are the more productive members of our society they can be. As with the hard work, innovation, and success achieved by previous generations of American immigrants, we can all benefit from their success.
Just as importantly, it is the right thing to do for students who have embraced American education, succeeded academically, and demonstrated their commitment to making a positive contribution to our community and our society.
To learn more about Dream Project, please visit www.dreamproject-va.org and engage with us on Twitter. We welcome supporters and community members to assist in our mentoring, advocacy, family engagement and scholarship programs.
Dream Project’s work is guided by our vision of a supportive and inclusive community where all people are empowered through education to pursue their dreams and achieve their full potential. This is the type of community I believe Arlington aspires to be. And that is one of the key reasons my wife and I have made it our home; and why we are raising our two children here.
Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz works for an asset-building organization in Washington, DC and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington-based non-profit organization Dream Project.