With mini American flags in hand and camera phones at the ready, friends and family gathered at Arlington Central Library on Thursday to witness loved ones take the final step in their years-long journey to becoming U.S. citizens.
For the first time since 2019, Arlington Public Library hosted an in-person U.S. citizen induction ceremony at Central Library in Virginia Square. Fifty former green card holders from 29 different countries recited the Oath of Allegiance, marking the completion of their naturalization process.
“Many of you embarked on a journey from somewhere else. You left behind families and friends, cities and villages, farms and businesses, happy times, and challenging times, making sacrifices to begin your minds a new in this great country of ours,” Diane Kresh, director of Arlington Public Library, told candidates before they took their oaths.
For many candidates, the ceremony was a milestone they had waited over a decade to achieve.
Aparna, who asked ARLnow not to use her last name, said she immigrated to the United States from India in 2007 on a student visa. She eventually received a work visa and married her husband Piyush — who was naturalized in 2011 in Wisconsin before he met Aparna — in 2012. Although eligible for citizenship years ago, Aparna waited to apply, noting it was not an easy decision.
“It was an emotional change,” she said. “You can still be Indian, but you owe your allegiance to the United States.”
Loren Aka said she immigrated from the Ivory Coast to the U.S. in 2017 on a student visa to pursue higher education at George Mason University in Fairfax County.
Now married with a child, Aka told ARLnow she applied for citizenship this year after she received her green card, adding that it was a “smooth” process.
“I applied in January for the citizenship… And a couple of months later, they called me for an interview. I was interviewed in July. One month later, when I passed the interview. I was called here for the naturalization,” she said.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, eligibility for naturalization requires an individual to be at least 18 years old and to read, write and speak basic English. Candidates must also reside continuously in the United States for at least five years, or three if married to a U.S. citizen, and maintain “good moral character.”
After having their biometrics taken and being interviewed by a USCIS officer, the final step for the candidates was reciting the oath. USCIS Washington District Director Ron Rosenberg administered Aka and Aparna’s oath.
“I’m feeling good because I’ve started to be a part of the community of country since I’ve been in the United States. So, I feel like I want to keep going with what I was doing and I feel a part of the country,” Aka said.
A mother-daughter duo, originally from Ukraine, are offering Eastern European beauty services in Clarendon.
Natalia Vyberg and her daughter Anna moved to the U.S. four years ago. Upon their arrival, the duo opened two salons in Northern Virginia: Beauty Bar Lashes and Beauty Bar Nails.
Energized by the success of their original locations, they combined them into one salon, now in Clarendon: The Beauty at 3110 Washington Blvd. It offers eyelash services, facials, manicures and pedicures.
Through a translator, Natalia told ARLnow her Ukrainian techniques draw U.S. customers to The Beauty and keep them coming back.
“In Ukraine, beauty services are held to a high standard. Our clients get those high standards of a Ukrainian service that is focused on perfection at The Beauty. It takes a special technique and materials to do this,” she said.
To meet those standards, Natalia, who owns The Beauty, also orders most of her tools and products from Ukraine.
The Vybergs are originally from Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city and one of Russia’s main targets since invading Ukraine last year 2022. Natalia, a 20-year veteran of the beauty industry, opened five salons in Kyiv before opening salons states-side.
Her daughter Anna followed in her footsteps, opening a salon in New York City after The Beauty in Clarendon took off.
Now, she travels almost weekly from Arlington to New York to help run and work at both salons, noted an employee at The Beauty. The employee said this is partly because some clients only want Anna to handle their beauty regimens.
Her mother requires all her employees go through Ukrainian beauty training courses. Natalia said she mostly hires Ukrainian immigrants to work at The Beauty, though she made an exception for two from Russia.
“They are American citizens and have lived here for many years now,” she said. “We are not involved in politics or interested in political questions. We welcome anyone to work at the salon who can provide good services.”
Now, the mother-daughter duo are looking to hire new employees to handle their Clarendon customer base.
Changes are happening within the Columbia Pike-based nonprofit La Cocina VA.
Over time, it widened its focus to help immigrants, refugees and unhoused people from all backgrounds. Founder Paty Funegra tells ARLnow the nonprofit was renamed Kitchen of Purpose last month to recognize that shift formally. She also gave a heads-up of some other changes slated for the new year.
Kitchen of Purpose will be putting an $80,000 grant from longtime supporter Bank of America to use to address food insecurity and support workforce development. Meanwhile, the nonprofit will be updating the menu and adding outdoor seating to the café it operates out of its facility at 918 S. Lincoln Street in a bid to attract new customers. Kitchen of Purpose moved into the facility in 2020.
Funegra says the name change was a years-long process that wrapped up last month.
“It didn’t take too long until we had applicants to our program from other ethnicities, immigrants from other places, Americans who speak good English who were interested in food service as career opportunities,” she said.
While La Cocina VA began offering classes in English by 2018, “we were always labeled as ‘La Cocina only serves the Hispanic community,'” Funegra said.
She says many of Asian, Middle Eastern and Eastern European descent — mostly women — have applied to Kitchen of Purpose’s small business incubator program.
“They already utilize food as not only a way of gathering families, but creating something,” she said.
Bank of America’s $80,000 grant will increase the number of meals Kitchen of Purpose can provide to people in affordable housing and homeless shelters, to senior residents and public schools children during the summer. A portion will support the nonprofit’s workforce development program that helps unemployed people get jobs and training in food service and hospitality.
“It definitely is a large contribution,” she said. “We project this is around 10,000 meals that we can provide our clients, using part of this grant.”
Starting in February, customers can order from the new food menu, with international flavors, Sunday brunch, plus beer, wine and cocktails. The interior will be redesigned and, by the spring, there should be outdoor seating.
“We want to bring more attention to the café,” Funegra said. “Like any other establishment, we’re surviving the pandemic… Some people know about us, but we want to come out with a new look, new name and new personnel to bring clients and raise awareness about us.”
It’s a far cry from where she started: a 167-square-foot kitchen in a church basement. To help small business owners make similar kinds of moves, she says in the near future she wants to provide microloans. That way, they can start building credit and eventually qualify for bigger loans.
“They have the talent, knowledge and passion, but because of their condition, they face barriers to obtain a small seed capital loan,” she said. “We’re exploring opportunities to create a fund that would allow us to inject capital — $5,000 to $10,000 loans — to these entrepreneurs so they can start generating business.”
The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the county jail, will be ending voluntary cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In a letter to local activists and lawyers, Sheriff Beth Arthur said she will be updating ASCO policy regarding undocumented people after consulting with her attorney.
“The ASCO will no longer recognize any ‘voluntary action’ requests from ICE nor place the information in our records management system,” she said. “The sheriff’s office will no longer contact ICE for any releases from our facility, to include felony charges.”
The Sheriff’s Office will however “continue to follow state code and submit any required information to ICE and the Virginia State Compensation Board” and “continue to honor any judicially signed warrants from ICE, which will be treated like any other detainer,” the letter says.
In a statement, immigration nonprofit LaColectiVA and Legal Aid Justice Center and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild celebrated the decision.
“While there is more work to do to achieve all possible protections for people at risk of criminalization at the county level, this is a major win for Arlington County migrant communities,” they said. “We hope that this ongoing community effort will be a model for an ‘Arlington way’ where the people, particularly those who are most harmed by state violence in its different forms, are part of decision-making and leading changes toward truly just, safe and strong communities.”
The move comes after the Arlington County Board approved a “Trust Policy” limiting police cooperation with ICE this summer.
As part of the policy, the County Attorney will review relevant warrants, court orders and subpoenas received by county government offices, other than the police department, to determine if compliance with the federal immigration agency is required.
Officers can only notify ICE with approval from an on-duty watch commander or a supervisor ranked lieutenant or above. Cases must involve an undocumented immigrant who has committed a felony or has been deported before, or someone who was arrested on a violent felony, street gang offenses or a non-violent felony with a community safety, terrorism or human trafficking threat.
Violations of the policy will be investigated by the county or in the case of police, by the Community Oversight Board. Findings will go to the County Board.
At the time, activists criticized the policy for not requiring ASCO to stop notifying ICE when undocumented immigrants are released from jail, which they said led to “a breakdown of trust” in the migrant community.
Well look what we have here—the Arlington Sheriff ends its voluntary cooperation with ICE, which led to so many unjust detentions and deportations. Big ups to @LaColectiVA703 @LegalAidJustice @NLGnews and all the other advocates who made this happen. Incredible! pic.twitter.com/PZX5Aw6pUT
— Brad Haywood (@BradleyRHaywood) December 21, 2022
Now, Arthur says the forthcoming changes respond to the “impactful experiences that individuals and families in the community have had to face regarding ICE interactions.”
“I am extremely passionate about my role as Sheriff which includes ensuring the safety and security of the individuals in our custody as well as the citizens of Arlington County,” she said. “I pride myself on making informed decisions that benefit the communities I represent, which has led me to making the changes noted above.”
On Monday, a day before the date on Arthur’s letter, emails between members of the Arlington County Board and Legal Aid Policy regarding the decision to end ICE collaboration were reprinted in the conservative news site Breitbart.
Per the site, the emails — obtained by the conservative nonprofit Immigration Reform Law Institute — reveal “the extent to which Arlington County Board members are working hand-in-hand with activists from the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) to protect illegal aliens arrested for crimes from being turned over to [ICE] agents.”
It also brings up the county funding to LAJC.
Per the county’s 2022 budget, $25,000 would go to LAJC for offer legal aid and information to “help low-income immigrant workers and their families build assets and increase self-sufficiency.”
The Arlington County Board approved a policy limiting police cooperation with federal immigration agencies despite continued concern from activists.
In response to criticism on the proposal, dubbed the “Trust Policy,” the County Board updated some sections ahead of the unanimous vote at its meeting yesterday (Tuesday). However, criticism from immigration advocacy groups remains.
Around 60 regional and national organizations endorsed a letter by La ColectiVA, National Immigration Project and the Legal Aid Justice Center opposing the policy. A handful of members from those groups attended the Board meeting, holding up a banner saying, “#ICE out of Arlington.”
“We continue to be extremely concerned that the Trust Policy is woefully inadequate when placing limits on Arlington County law enforcement’s collaboration with ICE,” the letter stated.
The main change to the policy that passed was the addition of a compliance provision, which was the result of community feedback, County Board member Matt de Ferranti said.
The county attorney will review all relevant warrants, court orders and subpoenas received by county government offices, other than the police department, to determine if compliance is required, according to the policy.
Department and agency heads are to investigate all alleged violations of the policy, while the Community Oversight Board will investigate alleged policy violations by the police. Findings from the investigations will go to the County Board. The Board will also receive reports from the police and the Sheriff’s Office on law enforcement contact with ICE.
The board added the compliance section because it illustrated the role of the Board and the County Manager in ensuring the policy would be fairly and uniformly applied, de Ferranti said.
Language was also added prohibiting police officers from asking people for their immigration status. And the policy now requires officers to get an approval to notify federal immigration authorities if they suspect someone they’ve arrested was breaking federal immigration laws.
Police officers may only contact federal immigration authorities after getting approval from the on-duty watch commander or a supervisor ranked lieutenant or above, under circumstances laid out in the Arlington County Police Directive Manual 523.04.
The circumstances include instances when an undocumented immigrant is arrested on a violent felony, a non-violent felony if specific facts of the case establish a threat to community safety, terrorism or human trafficking, street gang offenses, as well as those who have previously committed a felony or been deported.
“It makes it clear that an officer has to go up the chain of command,” de Ferranti said.
However, the policy’s affirmation of the police directive “places no meaningful controls on [police officers’] actions,” according to the letter from advocacy groups. The groups also criticized the policy for not ensuring people can provide a non-standard ID to access services and benefits, as well as to prove their identity when stopped for offenses.
The groups wanted the Board to put pressure on the Sheriff’s Office, which operates the county jail, to stop notifying ICE when undocumented immigrants are released from jail. Such collaboration between law enforcement and ICE led to “a breakdown of trust” in the migrant community, according to the letter. From January 2019 to October 2020, ICE arrested 104 people released from the Arlington County jail because of the collaboration, the letter said.
Despite criticism, the Board believed the trust policy is a step for Arlington to become an inclusive community.
“This does not transform Arlington overnight,” said Board member Christian Dorsey, who worked with de Ferranti on the policy. “It’s a necessary step, a vital prerequisite.”
Activists say a county proposal to prohibit police cooperation with federal immigration agencies in most circumstances doesn’t go far enough.
The proposed policy, dubbed the “Trust Policy,” is set to be discussed at this Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting. The Board is scheduled to vote on the policy at its July meeting.
A group called Communities of Arlington Protected from Abuse by ICE (CAPA) believes the policy only codifies what already exists and doesn’t change police department policies that allow officers to ask and share citizenship information in certain circumstances. CAPA is made up of immigration advocacy groups Legal Aid Justice Center, La ColectiVA and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.
The proposed policy states that all county employees are forbidden to ask for or disclose an individual’s citizenship status, unless specifically exempted by current police department policy or required by state or federal law.
Under the policy, county employees would be prohibited from cooperating with federal immigration officials to enforce federal immigration laws, as well as using or lending county resources to help them access an individual’s identity information, help an investigation or enforcement of any federal program requiring registration based on citizenship status. They also cannot threaten others because of their citizenship status.
Moreover, the proposed policy would allow any resident to access government services without providing proof of legal presence.
Currently, the policy governing the relationship between the local police and federal immigration agencies like ICE is Policy 523.04 of the ACPD Directive Manual. It states that the the police department does not “conduct immigration enforcement investigations.” A police officer cannot ask about the citizenship status of a victim or a witness of a crime and cannot arrest somebody based solely on a suspected immigration violation.
However, when someone is arrested for a crime, a police officer can under reasonable suspicion notify a federal immigration agency of an individual’s citizenship status, according to the directive manual. The proposed policy will not affect this exception.
“Our primary concerns are the ways that the draft ‘Trust Policy’ continues collaboration between Arlington Police and ICE,” Director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg said in a press release.
The groups believe the proposed policy gives too much discretion to the police to cooperate with federal immigration agencies by not striking the exceptions listed in the current department policy.
“ACPD’s Directive does little to end ACPD’s collaboration with ICE, and instead gives police officers vast discretion to interrogate community members about their immigration status,” said the coalition. “Merely because those community members are suspected of certain criminal activity.”
The groups also criticized the proposed policy for not further regulating the Sheriff’s Office, which runs the county jail, or allowing individuals to use non-standard ID to access government services.
“The goals and aims of Arlington County’s Trust Policy cannot be achieved without ensuring that the Sheriff’s Office ceases its cooperation with ICE,” the groups said.
The groups urged the County Board to adopt the policy they drew up instead. In the CAPA policy, which includes similar provisions as in the proposed Trust Policy, people would be allowed to use non-government issued IDs to access government services and benefits.
The police department sought community input when drafting the current version of Policy 523.04, said ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage.
“Throughout late 2021 and early 2022, ACPD collaborated with community members, organizations and stakeholders and sought their input on an updated version of manual directive 523.04 Immigration Status and Access to Police Services, which was issued to all ACPD personnel on February 15, 2022,” she said.
Youngkin Supporters Want Action Against Arlington — “Arlington County firemen, EMTs, police and other unvaccinated county employees will lose their jobs 16 days after Youngkin takes office if county mandates stay in place, and the remaining vaccinated workers may be forced to do double duty to take up the slack. Youngkin supporters, including those at this monthly breakfast lecture of the Arlington based Leadership Institute, have been expressing concern that the new governor may not be aggressive enough in opposing punitive county policies directed against the unvaccinated.” [Bacon’s Rebellion]
Activists Want Arlington to End All ICE Cooperation — “As Arlington County lawmakers embark on an effort to strengthen trust with immigrant residents, the details of what that will look like — particularly over when and how Arlington communicates with federal immigration officials — remains an open question. Earlier this fall, officials in the Northern Virginia county released a draft framework that declares it is ‘inappropriate’ to use its resources to detain or deport undocumented immigrants. But activists say Arlington needs to go further, pushing the county to cut all ties with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” [Washington Post]
APS Science Teacher Changes Channels — From local high school science teacher Ryan Miller, who also works as fill-in television meteorologist: “Little life (work) change to announce! I’m now part of @nbcwashington & StormTeam4 & will be helping out w/ weather duties from time to time. I may even mix in a science lesson or two during my broadcasts.” [Twitter]
Snow Looking More Likely — From the Capital Weather Gang: “Snow potential index – 3/10 (^): The chance of maybe an inch or two in parts of the region has gone up for Wednesday but some models still aren’t on board with snowy idea.” [Twitter]
It’s Monday — Today will be mostly cloudy, with warming temperatures in the afternoon giving way to rain showers after 4 p.m. High near 67. South wind 9 to 18 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. Sunrise at 7:13 a.m. and sunset at 4:46 p.m. Tomorrow will be partly sunny, with a high near 41. [Weather.gov]
County Mulls Immigration Policies — “The Arlington County Board unveiled a draft framework for a Commitment to Strengthening Trust with Our Immigrant Community… ‘We are sharing an updated framework and seeking community engagement on policies on the next steps on access to public services, protecting resident’s information, and making sure Arlington County resources are not used to facilitate enforcement of federal immigration laws, which are the sole responsibility of the Federal government.'” [Arlington County]
Mixed Reaction to New County Logo — “For the Arlingtonians packed into outdoor restaurant seating on a warm night in Shirlington over the weekend, reaction to the new logo was mixed. ‘That’s what that is? That’s the river between Arlington and D.C.? I’m completely underwhelmed,’ said Lisa Peterson… But a few blocks away, Kaleb Tecleab, a 49-year-old security engineer, said he appreciated an ‘inclusive’ design that hinted at a greater sense of regionalism.” [Washington Post]
Local Teen Earns Prestigious Scholarship — “Adie Selassie of Arlington, a senior at Sidwell Friends School, was the only Virginian to be named a 2021 Calvin Coolidge Presidential Scholar. The program, overseen by the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, is a merit-based competition that provides full tuition, room, board, books and expenses for four years at a college of the student’s choice.” [Sun Gazette]
Crystal City Eatery Wins Award — From the National Landing Business Improvement District: “We are so lucky to have [Peruvian Brothers] as a part of our National Landing community! Congrats on the RAMMY! Well deserved!” [Twitter]
Grumbles About Slow Library Reopening — “On Saturday, the board of Friends of the Arlington Public Library blasted the county government to its very face (electronically-speaking) at the County Board meeting. In no uncertain terms, the organization (not generally known as a group of bomb-throwers) blasted the county government for multiple failures in setting the stage for an expeditious, safe reopening.” [Sun Gazette]
Nearby: Police Warn of Overdose Danger — “Fairfax County, Virginia, Police Chief Kevin Davis on Tuesday said six people overdosed in the predawn hours in [the Skyline area], and warned that a potentially fatal batch of cocaine laced with fentanyl might still be circulating in the area. All six victims, who ranged in age from 23 to 35, survived, although one victim is still ‘clinging to life’ in a hospital, Davis said. Three others remain hospitalized. They were found at a residence in the 5500 block of Seminary Road, near South George Mason Drive, a little after 3 a.m.” [WTOP]
This week, a Marymount University graduate working in tech is packing up and moving to Dublin, Ireland.
He didn’t expect — or want — to leave his home on the border of Arlington and Falls Church this way.
Hansel D’Souza, 25, is an Indian national who was born and raised in Kuwait who now works for a tech company. He has been in Virginia since 2014, when he arrived on an F1 student visa to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology at Marymount. There, he dove into theater, student affairs and campus ministry.
“I was everywhere at the same time, wearing lots of hats,” he said. “People asked me, ‘Is there any job you don’t do?”
He programmed backstage lighting and sounds for the campus theater club, the McLean Community Players and the Little Theatre of Alexandria. With the campus ministry group, he went to Louisa, Kentucky for a service project and returned as a camp counselor for a few summers, watching campers graduate high school and go to college.
His extracurricular resume may be impressive — but none of his positions or volunteer work mattered when it came to seeking an H1B visa to continue working in the U.S. in his specialized field, which selects 65,000 people a year through a lottery. Up to 20,000 additional people can get this visa if they’ve earned a master’s degree or higher.
“This is not a merit-based system,” said James Montana, an attorney at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm in Arlington. “The question is, do you have a degree that is related to the proposed work in a specialty field? An individual can do nothing to increase his chances — other than get a master’s, which is an awfully expensive way to increase them.”
D’Souza said his frustration with the H1B process, which wrote about in a Medium post, is that it whittled him down to a number in a lottery.
“Seven years of hard work, putting myself out there, making this place my home, building relationships, just came down to a lottery process,” he said. “I know I’m not the only one. I know a handful of other people going through it — and there are thousands of others across the country in similar situations every year.”
Indians in the U.S. face particular hurdles. In recent years, members of the diaspora living in the United States have protested a 150-year backlog in green cards, caused by a policy capping the number of Indians who can come to the U.S., and a coronavirus-induced excess of green cards that could go to waste despite this backlog.
Many Indian immigrants advocate for the cap to be lifted and for the immigration process to consider their technical skills instead.
As for D’Souza, he says he considered getting a master’s degree to increase his chances of staying. But after four years of tuition, and room and board, a master’s represented a financial lift he said he couldn’t justify, especially since he saw people advance in his field without one.
“Unfortunately, the world has gotten to a point where people are doing more degrees to check boxes on resume, and I didn’t want to do that,” he said.
It is too late for D’Souza, who departs tomorrow night (Wednesday), but he said he wants to elevate the voices of “international students and working professionals just like me.” He wants the Americans he knows to understand how complex immigrating to the U.S. is, as well.
“Immigration needs to change,” he said. “I’m hoping more people will realize it’s not all rose-colored glasses.”
AWLA Captures Escaped Parakeet — “Officer K. Davis of the Animal Welfare League of Arlington successfully captured this errant budgie tonight… She used her phone to play budgie calls in hope of enticing the stray bird. Twice the budgie alluded the net but three times proved the charm as Officer Davis’s patience and speed completed the apprehension.” [Facebook]
Massage Studio Opening Next Week — “Elements Massage opens at Westpost (formerly Pentagon Row) on Monday, July 19… The 2,100-square-foot studio will be located at 1101 S. Joyce Street, Suite B10.” [Press Release]
Arlington Tech Students Earn Nat’l Medal — “Lina Barclay and Ellie Nix, two Arlington Tech seniors at the Arlington Career Center, won the second-place silver medal in the 2021 SkillsUSA National Competition for Television Video Production. This is the highest placement for APS students since placing fourth in 2018 and 2019.” [Arlington Public Schools]
Marymount Conducting Heat Study — “Marymount University is joining 11 other higher education institutions within the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC) in setting out across the state to understand where residents are most at risk during extreme heat waves. Marymount faculty, staff, students and community volunteers will use specially designed thermal sensors to record air temperatures and humidity throughout the Northern Virginia area over three specific times this Thursday: 6 am, 3 pm and 7 pm.” [Press Release]
Local Woman’s Journey from Vietnam — “It was April 30, 1975 – as North Vietnamese troops converged on Saigon in the last hours of the Vietnam War – that Sonia Johnston (then known by her Vietnamese name To Nga) boarded an American helicopter atop the U.S. embassy and, with no family at her side, was whisked away to a refugee camp in preparation for a new life… ‘I had nothing, and here I am. You can’t do it by yourself,’ Johnston said during a July 7 presentation.” [Sun Gazette]
Mariflor Ventura made headlines earlier this year for helping her Buckingham neighbors during the pandemic.
Dubbed an “Arlington superwoman” by ABC 7, Ventura has been finding and distributing donations and handing out food and basic supplies for a year — an experience that has changed her life.
But now, she is drowning in donations and buckling under the weight of unyielding need. Still, Ventura is determined to give a leg up to people who have fallen on hard times and is looking for ways to structure and sustain her work.
“I love Arlington,” she said. “Whatever I can do, I’m here.”
Ventura, who is a bus attendant with Arlington Public Schools, began helping her neighbors last year during the lockdowns when school was virtual. Through a local Facebook group, she found items for free and distributed them to her neighbors.
The network expanded quickly, especially after giving an interview in Spanish, which reached immigrant communities as far as Woodbridge.
“This year has been busier than when I started,” she said. “I’m going to have to take a vacation from the donations to spend time with my kids.”
Eventually, Ventura migrated her operation from the “Arlington Neighbors” Facebook group to her own Buckingham Mutual Aid Organization Arlington group. She recently started an Amazon wishlist to facilitate in-kind donations.
“I stopped fundraising because I don’t want to manage money,” which could open her up to criticisms about how it is spent, she said.
The Amazon wishlist goes beyond the basics. There are decorations so families could have proper graduation parties for their older kids and bubble wands, water guns and coloring books to occupy kids this summer.
All these ideas have come from Facebook group members, she said.
“They have good ideas and they like to help,” she said.
But Ventura has a wishlist of her own: A separate space for the donations, a nonprofit designation, and a regular assistant to keep track of appointments and help distribute items.
She has been considering the now-vacant apartment downstairs from her. Even the nearest storage facility is far away and the move might confuse people who are used to coming to her house. There was talk about finding a church basement, but that fell through, she said.
As it stand right now, her home is filled with donated items waiting to be given away.
“There’s no space to clean — there’s a tiny little space where we watch TV in the dining room area,” she said. “Some days, I give up and say, ‘I’m not going to do anything. I’ll just try to relax.'”
She laughs. “Normally, I’m a very organized lady. My mom taught me to have my clothes picked out for the next day.”
Ventura said some connections are working on turning the organization into a nonprofit, but that will take some time. In the interim, she imagines creating some kind of free thrift store.
The Arlingtonian knows what it’s like to have nothing. At one point, Ventura lost her job, her apartment and her car. But someone opened a door for her to start working at the county, and she worked her way up.
“From my experience, I can help more people,” she said.
She said it is hard for many immigrants to adjust to life in the U.S. — to find jobs, seek out assistance or just feel comfortable visiting a park.
“I hear from them that it’s their dream to come here, but when they come, they [realize] it’s not easy to live here,” she said. “It’s hard to find a job and if you don’t have family here, it’s harder. It’s just like they are stuck. Somebody has to help them up.”
Ventura said her neighbors are also returning the favor.
“It’s not like I’m the hero,” she said. “They see how I help and they’re helping in return.”