It’s hard to find someone whose family has been in the USA longer than Meg Eubank’s, given that her father’s family immigrated here in the 1600’s. But even then, some folks just didn’t want them here.
Indeed, the time between the original Jamestown settlement, where one of Meg’s ancestors settled in the 1600’s, and the American Revolution, wars and skirmishes constantly broke out between native Americans, the French, Spanish and British settlers. It seemed as though just about everyone in the Americas took turns saying, ‘You don’t belong here’ to just about everyone else.
But still the immigrants came, including Ms. Eubank’s later, Irish family in the 1800’s. Always, there was someone here showing the compassion to welcome the stranger to this new land. Today, that person is Meg Eubank.
Meg is the Executive Director of Welcoming the Stranger, a an educational nonprofit organization located in Langhorne, PA, that provides English language, computer and citizenship training to immigrant students in the Philadelphia area. They are quite prolific, having taught, free of charge, over 3,000 students from more than 100 countries for almost twenty years, since 1999. In her work, Meg honors her ancestors and the hardships everyone has encountered to get here.
Meg describes the mission of Welcoming the Stranger;
We help students learn the language skills they need to communicate with their children’s teachers and doctors, along with helping them create resumes, prepare for job interviews, handle financial transactions, and other communication survival skills they need to thrive in their communities. We also connect recent immigrants and refugees to community resources such as housing, food, jobs, and further educational opportunities. Our program has grown substantially over the past few years, as more and more immigrants seek out our services.
WTS also puts on an annual fundraiser, the International Dinner.
The International Dinner is our very popular annual event where students prepare international food from over a dozen countries to share with Welcoming the Stranger supporters. We also have an auction, raffle, and entertainment. This year’s event will be held on Saturday, October 21, 2017 at Seton Hall, 1200 Park Ave, Bensalem, PA 19020.
Indeed, if there is one universal language, that language is food.
Meg has seen a lot of students pass through the doors of WTS. When asked what she thought were the greatest success stories of Welcoming the Stranger, she replied:
Over 3,000 students from 100 different countries have been served through Welcoming the Stranger. In human terms what this adds up to are the numerous daily accomplishments of our students, such as: A young Syrian father who has only a 4th grade education and spent his teen years in a refugee camp, and who now has survival English skills and has gotten his first job ever.
An asylee family (who escaped the 2016 Turkish coup when the new government was executing the father’s coworkers) came to our classes. WTS connected the family with Nationalities Service Center and they are in the process of asylum as they learn English and job skills, and how to communicate with their 7 year old daughter’s teacher.
A Liberian grandmother is learning to read and write for the first time in her life.
A victim of human trafficking and sexual abuse has earned her GED, found a job, and is now learning to drive.
Two Iraqi widows (former lawyers in Iraq) attend computer and English classes for survival English and resources like jobs, training programs, and free clinics, and as a result, (they) were able to move into and sustain their own apartment.
Ukrainian grandparents have learned to communicate with their grandchildren, who are growing up in America and only speak English.
A Syrian refugee mother has formed a network with other local mothers hailing from 4 different continents, bonding over shared English class and raising their children in a new country.
An Eritrean widow with a toddler son is learning how to navigate her new community. A young Syrian couple with a blind toddler daughter is learning how to utilize the resources in their new neighborhood.
Attending WTS English classes over the past decade helped a group of Russian Jewish refugee women build their lives and raise their children and grandchildren in America.
A Bosnian couple who birthed their child in the middle of the siege of Sarajevo and attended WTS in the late 1990s and early 2000s, have since built successful careers and were able to raise their child in a safe place.
A man who escaped the Colombian drug cartels (who targeted him because he was a pilot who sprayed herbicide on the drug plants) has since gained asylum and has a successful career and family life in the US.
A Guinean mother of 4 got her driver’s license, found a job, and learned how to sustain her own apartment after her husband left her in a new country without a support system.
There are countless others who, with the help of Welcoming the Stranger, have begun careers, been able to communicate with their doctors, gotten involved in their children’s education, gained their citizenship, and learned the skills needed to lead successful lives in a new country.
Without the support of family and community in the USA, my own grandparents would never have made it here in the 19th century. The kindness that Meg shows every day, is something that has served this country so well since long before there was a USA.
And while there are calls from some in our country today to stop immigration, there will always be people like Meg to bring sanity back to the argument. For me, what Meg does is about every day, universal compassion, and not just resistance to a temporary political reality.
For this portrait I used a Nikon D800 with a Nikon 105mm DC lens and Alien Bees monolights against a white paper background.