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Federal funds awarded to Santa Rosa’s Catholic Charities to boost naturalization program

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa will ramp up its services for legal permanent residents who need help becoming citizens this month after the organization was awarded more than $237,000 in federal grant money, the nonprofit said.

The Santa Rosa-?based charity was one of 41 organizations across 24 states selected for the Citizenship and Assimilation Grants Program, which gives money to immigrant-serving organizations that help steer lawful permanent residents through the naturalization process.

Nearly $10 million was awarded during this year’s grant cycle and more than 245,000 permanent residents have been helped by the program since its start in 2009, said the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security that administers the grants.

Santa Rosa’s Catholic Charities was notified it was selected for the grant program last week and the nonprofit will receive the money around mid-October, said JennieLynn Holmes, the nonprofit’s chief program officer. While the nonprofit has offered citizenship classes for the past 43 years and naturalization services for the past 18 years, the federal money will help boost the services already in place, Holmes said.

“There’s a huge need and people have been wanting this,” Holmes said of the expanded services. “It’s positive news amid the national controversy around immigration.”

Currently, the nonprofit only has one instructor for its free citizenship classes, which are almost always full and only offered in limited areas, Holmes said. The grant will pay for educational materials, as well as increase the number of citizenship class instructors at the nonprofit to as many as five, Holmes said. The coursework prepares naturalization applicants for a interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer, as well as a test, which covers topics such as English, U.S. history and government, Holmes said.

“The test is not easy,” Holmes said. “We have a curriculum and everything to help train people and prepare for the citizenship exam.”

In all, the funding is expected to cover citizenship classes for 210 legal permanent residents in six towns throughout Lake and Sonoma counties: Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Windsor, Cloverdale, Clearlake and Lakeport. High demand and historically underserved communities in those two counties, where Mexico, Honduras, the Philippines and the northeast African country of Eritrea are the most common countries of origin for immigrants, will be the focus of their efforts, Holmes said.

The goal is for at least 180 of the people who take the classes to successfully complete the naturalization process, Holmes said. Only legal permanent residents will be able to benefit from the grant money. People seeking more information about the citizenship classes and naturalization services can call Catholic Charities’ immigration department at 707-528-3712.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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