BERWYN – Becoming a U.S. citizen can be a long, confusing and arduous process, so the Berwyn Public Library is hoping to make things easier for Berwyn residents who are seeking citizenship by offering a free drop-in citizenship prep class on Wednesday evenings.
The class, which is led by volunteer Berwyn residents and sisters Samantha and Ana Garcia, helps individuals who are in the process of becoming citizens, whether they’re just beginning the paperwork or getting ready to take the citizenship test. Students can attend as many classes as they need, and the number of students in the class varies from one to seven.
The Garcia sisters work with the students to navigate the paperwork and legal requirements, as well as help them strengthen their English skills. They also review information for the citizenship test, which includes U.S. history and government.
Samantha Garcia said the class does have a curriculum, but because it’s offered on a walk-in basis, the sisters tailor each lesson to the needs of the students that week. They enjoy working with the students because their mother went through a similar process years ago and they want to help others, Samantha said.
It usually takes about 13 months to become a citizen once the process has begun, but it depends on several factors, including the number of family members, age and income, she said.
“I know how much it helps to have a program like this one at the library,” Samantha said. “I enjoy meeting people, sharing conversations with them and seeing how the class empowers them. We create a safe space for the students, some who have their citizenship test in two weeks and others who are just beginning and come to the class for a year.”
The library had been offering the program for several years, but because of staffing cuts, there was a two-year gap before it started again in October 2017 when the Garcia sisters began volunteering to teach it.
Josephine Tucci, manager of reference services at the library, said it was important to start the class again because it provides a valuable resource in the community.
“Berwyn has a large Latino population and immigration is a very important topic, and it’s important to let the community know that the library has programs to support their needs,” she said. “[Samantha and Ana] are very passionate about immigration rights. They’re very dedicated and are the heart and soul of the program.”
Tucci said the class makes people feel more confident as they prepare to take the oral citizenship test, which must be done in English. In the last year, the library has helped eight people become citizens, which it celebrates with a party for the students and their families.
“We’re helping people feel a sense of security and belonging,” she said. “It’s a life-changing thing, and it’s very moving for people to go through this. Their sense of relief is amazing. They’re thrilled and very grateful.”
For information about the Berwyn Public Library’s citizenship prep class, visit berwynlibrary.org.