Bucks nonprofit dedicated to helping immigrants wins top national award

After 20 years of teaching English as a second language and offering other classes, Bucks County nonprofit Welcoming the Stranger is recognized for its efforts to help immigrants. (Courtesy of Welcoming the Stranger)

After 20 years of teaching English as a second language and offering other classes, Bucks County nonprofit Welcoming the Stranger is recognized for its efforts to help immigrants. (Courtesy of Welcoming the Stranger)

A Bucks County nonprofit with just one full-time staff member beat out more than 9,300 applicants to win top honors at the fourth annual Renewal Awards in New York City.

Welcoming the Stranger, based in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, will be given $40,000 in prize money during a ceremony hosted by Allstate Insurance and The Atlantic in Manhattan on Wednesday morning. The event will be broadcast live starting at 9:30 a.m.

The group teaches English as a second language, and offers job skills and citizenship exam classes to immigrants and refugees in the Philadelphia region, all at no cost. Over 20 years, the organization has enrolled more than 4,000 participants from 104 countries.

“When people move to a new country, and they don’t speak the language, they’re trapped inside themselves,” said executive director Meg Eubank in an interview.

Teaching such skills is a way to empower immigrants, and “It’s just so heartening to us that people are learning from our work and celebrating it,” she said.

Welcoming the Stranger takes its name from the Bible verse Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

The organization has three people on staff and also employs paid teachers and about 100 volunteers to offer between 15 and 20 classes three times a year. Each term lasts about three months. Some students have been attending classes for a decade, Eubank said, while others move once they transition from speaking only rudimentary English to being able to get a job and support themselves in the United States.

From the applicant pool, 15 finalists moved onto a public vote in February. Then, a panel of judges picked the winners. Acta Non Verba from East Oakland, California; Adelante Mujeres from Forest Grove, Oregon; The Compton Initiative from Paramount, California; and New Moms from Chicago, Illinois each won $20,000.

Allstate Insurance launched the Renewal Project in 2016 to highlight nonprofits and initiatives that aim to improve their communities. Through the Renewal Awards, the insurance provider has given away more than $300,000.

To make its decision, a panel of judges looked at four criteria: unique approach; impact to date; potential impact; and industry benchmarks such as GuideStar ratings.

Welcoming the Stranger’s “impact to date is undeniable and incredibly impressive,” said Kate MacGuidwin, manager of Allstate’s thought leadership and stakeholder engagement team.

Asked how the organization will use the funds, Eubank, who started as a teacher for the nonprofit in 2011, demurred.

“We’re in the nonprofit mindset, so I think we’re always scared to spend money … In my mind, I still can’t fathom it,” she said.

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