On the surface it’s a subtle change, a subtraction of but three words.
The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians is now The Welcoming Center.
More overtly, the place has a new logo, a “W” whose wings overlap to create the image of an internet pin drop, signifying the center of a community. The breaks in the circle surrounding the “W” suggest places for people to enter, that it’s not a closed loop.
The color tint? Perhaps an homage to the founder’s roots.
“I advocated for a little bit of green in it,” joked Anne O’Callaghan, who created the center in 2003 after coming here from County Monaghan, Ireland. “There’s no harm to remember where you came from.”
As the center nears its 18th birthday in March, the new name and logo mark a renewed concentration on core missions — helping immigrant arrivals develop work and entrepreneurial skills, and business-language skills, to engage with the larger community as they advance into new lives in America.
The Philadelphia-based center focuses on economic impact, for and by immigrants, believing that becoming a magnet for newcomers will make Pennsylvania a more dynamic competitor in the global economy, that a steady influx of workers, customers, and businesspeople can reinvigorate the state’s aging population, renew its neighborhoods, and reenergize its economy.
“Our mission is promoting economic growth through inclusive immigrant integration, making sure immigrants are included in our cities, our communities, our workforce,” said center president and CEO Peter Gonzales, who once taught English-as-a-second-language and U.S. civics in Poland and South Korea. “We needed both a look and name that spoke to those spaces.”
The use of “Pennsylvanians,” he said, suggested the organization was assisting people way across the state, say in Pittsburgh, but not necessarily in Camden or Wilmington. Immigrants who moved to the area from other states wondered if they were eligible to take part.
They were. And are.
Last year the center leadership pulled in sponsors, program participants, and supporters to discuss how a new name and logo could more clearly convey the center’s efforts. While it helps immigrants become naturalized citizens and operates a wellness program, some of the center’s major work includes:
an international professionals program, tailored to immigrants who hold foreign-university degrees, who are living in Philadelphia and have federal work authorization, and are looking for professional-level jobs.
contextualized English-as-a-second-language and skills training, for English-learners who are working to understand business terminology so they can advance at their jobs and land new and better ones.
a business training program, for people seeking to start or grow their own businesses. It includes guidance on licenses and regulations.
a global craft market, a collective of immigrant artists who share handmade, fairly traded goods to celebrate and sustain traditions from around the world.
an immigrant leadership institute, a five-month program that offers skills, knowledge, and tools to help new residents engage in civic life.
The renewal comes at a moment when the Biden administration is issuing orders and submitting legislation to help and encourage immigrants, following four years in which former President Trump painted immigration as a menace.
Years ago, Gonzales happened to notice an NBA poster, he said, and thought of how images could be used to convey meaning, in this case to “show immigrants as neighbors, friends, and coworkers,” supported by people “who believe at their core that immigrants are assets — but not commodities — who in all ways help us all become better.”
Today the center has helped people from more than 150 countries.
“They ask, ‘How do you feel as an immigrant? What are your needs?’” said Monica Molina, 40, who came from Colombia seven years ago, not speaking a word of English. “It makes you feel you’re not alone, we’re in the same boat, and we can help each other.”
Molina, now of Horsham, found her new life to be isolating, even as she longed to take an active role in American society. A tutor at the Free Library suggested she contact the Welcoming Center, where she joined workshops and other opportunities, including the International Professionals Program.
She worked as an online software developer and then, with help from the Welcoming Center’s preparatory program, got a job as a data analyst at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
She loved how people in the United States seemed to eagerly volunteer to help others. She jumped in, too, volunteering to translate and help Spanish speakers communicate with the staff at Abington Hospital. She’s continued to help out at I Belong Philly, which promotes better lives for immigrants, and on the Welcome Center’s Advisory Council, which counsels the agency.
O’Callaghan came to the United States in 1970, a graduate of the University of Dublin who planned to start work in physical therapy.
She remembers her own difficulty adjusting, even though she spoke English, because the culture and parlance were so different. On days when she needed an early wake-up call, she asked a friend, “Will you knock me up at 7 in the morning?” It was weeks before she understood why he burst out laughing.
And, more detrimental to her future, she was barred from taking the state licensing exam because she was foreign-trained. It took three years for her to get a physical-therapy license.
By 2000, O’Callaghan was volunteering at a suburban organization that mostly helped Irish immigrants. There she met a woman from China who spoke little English, and who needed help finding English classes for her son.
O’Callaghan decided she would create a central resource, a place where immigrants from all lands could get information on language classes and business start-ups. She would focus on helping people find employment.
In 2003, she and a network of friends opened the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians.
“As an immigrant, for me, a job is central to the way your life plays out,” said O’Callaghan, now 78 and living in Media. “Truly I did not set out to start an organization. I started out to do some funding to help people get jobs.”