FALLS CHURCH, Va. (WDVM) — In 2016, U.S. citizenship application fees doubled, totaling $725. Rita Siebebaler, a resident of the senior living and wellness community Goodwin House, thought of the staff members she sees every day who hail from over 60 countries.
“There is a really nice, warm bond between most residents and the staff. We’re very fond of them,” Siebebaler said. “Even though Goodwin House pays very competitive wages, that’s just a barrier that most employees cannot handle on their own.”
Siebebaler, a former social worker, is the immigration chair of the Silver Panthers — an organization of residents involved in advocacy work. She and the Goodwin House Foundation “jumped on it right away.” For the last four years, the foundation has been covering the cost of application fees and helping staff members study for the exam.
Nagla Badia, a healthcare and service team member from Yemen, passed her citizenship exam in 2019. “English is a second language — sometimes stuff I don’t understand. I’m lucky I have my kids at home, but [Goodwin House] studied with me. They studied hard with me.”
This spring, Badia fulfilled a lifelong dream: for the first time, she voted by mail in the presidential primary. She’s ready to go to the ballot box in person next month. “I feel so good that…to go in person and stand up in line and vote? So great. It’s a great feeling.”
The effort wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of staff members, residents, and their family members, who contribute to the fund. The citizenship program has helped one in three staff members start their citizenship process.
That support isn’t new to Badia, who has worked at Goodwin House for about 7 years. “The older people remind me of my parents. That’s a good thing. It’s like you feel at home, actually,” she said.
Since Siebebaler started this journey, the application fee has increased once again to $1,170. The service isn’t going anywhere.
“Almost all of us are descendants of immigrants and our ancestors did not have the barrier of such a steep financial price to apply,” Siebebaler said. “This really gives them a stake in a new life.”
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