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Tony Gwynn Community All-Star winning essay by Pathways' volunteer tutor Sydney Mafong

Updated: May 8, 2023

Organization: Pathways to Citizenship San Diego

Explain how you got started working with this organization or became passionate about this cause?

After a long day at school, I was complaining about a student sitting next to me in class, the weird chicken I had for lunch, and all the homework I still had to do that night. I opened up my email to find a note from a student in the civics class I help teach at Pathways to Citizenship. Dana wrote about how she has never had teachers show such genuine interest in her education. Her life in China was difficult and her access to education was strained. She was super touched at the skit the tutors did for the lesson! She said she would remember what she learned that day forever and that she called her family back in China after class to share what she learned with them. After seeing this note, I reflected back on how fortunate I am and what a privilege it is to be a US Citizen. I started working with Pathways to Citizenship SD in August 2022. Pathways is an organization that offers multiple free resources for immigrants, including a US history and civics class to prepare for the application for naturalization test and interview, an English class (ESL) to practice speaking and writing, one-on-one tutoring, and legal services. I volunteer with Pathways as a tutor for the citizenship class and Director of Social Media, advertising services and posting updates over various social media platforms. I am extremely passionate about working with Pathways because all four of my grandparents are immigrants that took the naturalization interview to become US citizens. I wanted to learn more about this process that hundreds of thousands of people go through each year, including my own family in the past. My hope is that my contribution to the organization will play a small part in improving the lives of those around us who have faced great adversity to come to the United States. I have seen first-hand the struggles of the immigrants in terms of limited access to education, a scarcity of job opportunities, difficulties in language and communication, and the loneliness and stress of living in a new community. Becoming a US Citizen is a huge source of pride and accomplishment with these individuals and allows them to have hope in achieving the American Dream. Each person comes from a unique background and culture and I love learning about the similarities and differences of our customs here in the US compared to various different countries around the world. I am trilingual (Spanish, Mandarin, English), and it’s very rewarding when I’m able to speak to immigrants in their native language as well as helping them with English. I specifically like working with Pathways because they are a smaller organization, so the class feels almost like a family. The tutors, administrators, and students all have a special bond working towards a common goal as we learn together every week. When one of our students becomes a citizen, it is a triumph for the entire group. As the only high school student tutor, I feel privileged to work with the dedicated people in the organization and the diligent students hoping for a better future. I hope to continue the important work being done at this organization.

In no more than 500 words, describe how the award would make an impact within your local community:

Pathways to Citizenship is a non-profit organization, relying on volunteers and donations. Each donation helps transform the lives of local immigrants because Pathways provides them with the legal and educational services necessary to help each person navigate the complex process of obtaining US citizenship. Pathways also helps refugees with humanitarian relief. Immigrants that go through the Pathways program have a near-perfect record of approval by the United States Citizen and Immigration Services. The award would not only help the program reach out and impact more people, but would also enrich the entire local community with the diversity of culture and experiences unique to every new citizen. In only a few months of working with Pathways, I have had the privilege to meet people from Ukraine, China, Mexico, Chile, Guatemala, and Vietnam. As Jose Antonio Vargas puts it, "Citizenship to me is more than a piece of paper. Citizenship is also about character. I am an American. We’re just waiting for our country to recognize it." In 2022 alone, Pathways provided 918 free legal consultations, supported 100+ students, trained 44 volunteer tutors, and welcomed 50 new citizens from many different countries. Receiving this award would profoundly impact this organization and transform the lives of hundreds of people striving to achieve the American Dream.


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