Somerville has long been a city of immigrants and this year one of the key groups in the city working to support that community is celebrating is 25th anniversary. The Welcome Project was started in the late 1980s to aid in the integration of the Mystic Housing Development and was formally incorporated as a nonprofit in 1990.
“One of the things we’re celebrating this year is how much the city has changed in 25 years and how much progress the city has made,” said Warren Goldstein-Gelb, director of The Welcome Project. “The Welcome Project was about the peaceful integration of the Mystic in the early years and we became more involved in the city overall.”
Somerville’s demographics looked a lot different 25 years ago and as the city became more diverse, The Welcome Project expanded its mission from the Mystic Housing Development to initiatives all over the city.
Welcome Project ESOL students participate in planning the future of Winter Hill.
“The Welcome Project, the way that I think about it, it’s not a project of a very small staff and some volunteers,” Goldstein-Gelb said. “The Welcome Project has been part of a large project all over the city to make this an intercultural city.”
The Welcome Project taps into the language skills of the city’s many bilingual youth through its Liaison Interpreter Program of Somerville (LIPS) and provides English classes to adult language learners. The third component of The Welcome Project’s work is the YUM discount card, which is valid at several local restaurants. YUM is also the name of The Welcome Project’s annual fundraiser, which is being held this year on Thursday, April 16 at the Arts at the Armory.
“The city has changed a lot in these 25 years, for the better, and I think that’s one of the things we’re celebrating,” Goldstein-Gelb said. “It extends a long tradition of Somerville being an immigrant city.”
The YUM: A Taste of Immigrant City fundraiser was born out of a project to explore both new and older immigrants’ stories and learn the ways they were already contributing to the community. In the process, The Welcome Project identified at least 100 immigrant-owned food establishments in Somerville.
“The YUM idea is celebrating all of the contributions immigrants are making in the city through the lens of food,” Goldstein-Gelb said. “It’s a fun evening of tasting the samplings from all of these different restaurants. It’s an appreciation of the goodness that immigrants are bringing to the city.”
LIPS youth put their interpretation skills into practice at a Somerville health fair.
This year’s YUM fundraiser will feature two samples from each of more than a dozen local restaurants–the most ever for the event–of food from around the world, from Mexican and Portuguese to Ethiopian and Italian. One of the samples is Shape Up Somerville approved, highlighting the partnership between the two organizations to bring healthy eating and physical activity to traditionally underserved populations.
“One of the things we’ve been very interested in over time is what kind of modifications can we make to stay within the cultural heritage that you’re in and make healthier choices,” Goldstein-Gelb said. “We work specifically with these immigrant-run restaurants to make their dishes in ways that are healthy or it might be that their dishes are healthy to begin with.”
Attendees will also get to enjoy the musical stylings of Son Del Sol, participate in a silent auction and honor this year’s award winners, Franklin Dalembert, of the Somerville Haitian Coalition, and Lisa Brukilacchio, of the Somerville Community Health Agenda at Cambridge Health Alliance. Additionally, there will be a special area set up where attendees can listen to immigrants’ stories told in their native languages and in English on interpretation devices.
“We set up a website this year that enables people if they have their own stories either about how Somerville has changed or to tell their own immigration story,” Goldstein-Gelb said. “We’d love to share some stories over the course of the year about what’s happened in the last 25 years.”
YUM features food from many of Somerville’s immigrant-owned restaurants.
Empowering the Somerville immigrant community to share their voices is a huge part of The Welcome’s Projects programming. The aforementioned Liaison Interpreter Program of Somerville trains bilingual Somerville High School students to be interpreters at meetings and community events.
The Welcome Project also offers English classes (and is seeking volunteer instructors for the fall term), organizes groups to work on ways Shape Up Somerville can better serve the immigrant community and aids the school system in integrating translation and interpretation services so parents can be more fully engaged in their children’s education.
And on April 16, Somerville will have the opportunity to celebrate The Welcome Project’s work in the community and support its continued programming. Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are now available for YUM.
“It’s a celebration of people of goodwill in the city working together over many years to make progress,” Goldstein-Gelb said. “To honor and respect and value the strengths and talents that people from all over the world bring to this community.”
P.S. Learn even more about The Welcome Project in our original story on the organization.
Images courtesy of The Welcome Project.