The William Butler Yeats quote “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” hangs on the door of Alison Geist, the director of Kalamazoo College’s Center For Civic Engagement (CCE).
“Our goal is to light a fire; to give students the tools to be agents for social change,” Kacey Cook said, the Post-Baccalaureate Fellow of the CCE, in regards to the quote.
That fire is set to be lit this fall, as student volunteers are sought after for the College’s CCE partnership with a new Kalamazoo chapter of the national organization, Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON).
JFON, started in 1999, is a Methodist organization that specializes in immigration ministry, seeking to welcome immigrants into communities “by providing affordable, high-quality immigration legal services, engaging in advocacy for immigrants’ rights and offering education to communities of faith and the public,” according to their website.
The organization already has seven chapters in the state of Michigan, including clinics in Holland and Grand Rapids. This chapter will be opening through the First United Methodist Church of Kalamazoo.
The opening of the Kalamazoo chapter of the clinic was catalyzed by the churches’ relations with immigrants in the area, whose financial situations made it difficult to navigate the legal process.
“The church has been working with Michigan United, and through that we’ve met a lot of immigrants families and gotten to know the difficulties they’ve faced,” Anne Sweany, Director of Volunteers for the program, said. “Because of the direct connection, we wanted to get involved.”
Sweany went on to say that the legal system in the United States is “really quite cumbersome.” Providing legal assistance to families who could not otherwise afford legal assistance can be integral to their success in this country. Atop attempting to navigate the legal maze, both deportation and incarceration are legitimate concerns for immigrants. Immigrants awaiting deportation are kept in the same detention center as violent criminals, located in Battle Creek. Overall, the legal assistance and guidance provided by the clinic will be incredibly important to its recipients.
Training for K student volunteers was held on October 26th, in which volunteers were prepared for their roles assisting with interpretation, childcare, and intake.
While it is being advertised that students who are proficient in Spanish are preferred, immigrants from Burma, Vietnam, and various countries in Africa will also be represented at the clinic. According to Sweany, students with language skills other than Spanish will be well received, as well as students who do not have any language skills.
For further information on volunteering, contact Kacey Cook at Kacey.Cook@kzoo.edu.