The Interview with Veronica Serrato

Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to work with Project Citizenship.

I started at Project Citizenship (PC) after a career in family law. When I saw the opening for the Executive Director (ED) position, I was interested in a new challenge, and believed that I had the necessary skills and could learn the law required to do the work. My parents were naturalized citizens and knew first-hand the impact that citizenship can have, not only on an individual, but on generations. Since I became the ED, PC has helped 6,500 people become US citizens. I believe naturalization is an effective tool for overcoming the many obstacles immigrants face, and seeing the powerful impact of taking this path is the favorite part of my work. Unlike many other temporary solutions that require additional applications and paperwork down the road, naturalization allows one to enjoy the rights of US citizenship permanently. While the process is complicated and expensive, PC helps people apply for fee waivers and helps throughout the application process.

What are the goals of the organization? Who supports PC?

We and our clients face often-changing, complex immigration laws. Despite this, our short-term goal is to maintain our 95% success rate while serving more clients. Doing more outreach to get people started in the naturalization process will be critical for success. TPC’s grant, which covers general operating funds, will cover some of the costs of this outreach. To identify people representing more than 100 languages and cultures in areas as far north as Lawrence and as far south as Attleboro, efforts include bus and subway ads in addition to media buys on ethnic television and radio stations. At a time when immigrants are being demonized politically and many are scared to identify themselves, PC is working hard to bring the benefits of citizenship to as many as possible. TPC joins other funders that include foundations, board members, and individual contributors. Law firms also help immensely by providing pro bono attorneys.

Can you tell us a story about how your work has impacted an individual, a family, or a community?

The impact of naturalization is wonderfully evident in the story of PC client Marianna. After being named ED, I shared the news on Facebook. Marianna, a fellow Brookline resident, saw the post and reached out about applying for naturalization. Now, not only Marianna but her husband and their three children are citizens. Marianna was naturalized just 3 days before her son turned 18, making his own citizenship automatic – if it had occurred after his birthday, he would have had to apply on his own. Marianna’s father, who does not speak English, was able to obtain a waiver of the English fluency requirement with PC’s help. Her children are now first-generation college students and were able to meet Representative Joe Kennedy III when he visited PC to learn more about their work.

What else do you hope to gain from your relationship with TPC? Are there other ways that TPC members could help you?

We look forward to connecting with TPC members in ways beyond receiving a grant. We are currently looking for new board members who are not attorneys – please read the job description if you’re interested. There is always a need for volunteers who speak Haitian Creole, Portuguese, or Cantonese. Individuals who would be willing to volunteer expertise in graphic design or Salesforce would also be very helpful, as well as anyone who works at an organization that serves our target communities who can help with outreach.

Thank you! On September 28, several TPC volunteers gave their time and energy to Citizenship Day 2019. In just 7 hours, 390 volunteers helped 440 immigrants apply for US citizenship. It was a long day, but their hard work led to the most successful Citizenship Day event ever. Their empathy, understanding, countless footsteps, and expertise paved the way for so many in our community to achieve their dreams of US citizenship. We want to recognize the moments in which the special skills of volunteers guided and soothed the concerns of so many taking on this life-changing process. (Read more…)

To learn more about Veronica and Project Citizenship, please attend the Philanthropy Dialogue on Immigration and Activism on November 6 at 6:30 in Chestnut Hill. This dialogue will feature Veronica as well as speakers from fellow grantee, Justice at Work, and the ACLU of Massachusetts. They will be discussing the most critical issues facing immigrants today, ideas on what can be done, and more ways TPC members can get involved.