Yamilet Celis, an AmeriCorps member working in Cicero, has a passion for education. Much like a teacher, she’s both embarking on her career and helping others pursue their dreams.
For her AmeriCorps service year, Yamilet is the Liaison for a program that serves immigrant students in Cicero. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Scholars Program is hosted by the Cicero Community Collaborative, United Way’s lead partner in the Cicero Neighborhood Network. This program is just one effort to help children and youth get the academic and developmental support they need to thrive, a top goal of the Neighborhood Network.
DACA is a federal immigration program that allows undocumented immigrants, also referred to as “Dreamers,” who were brought to this country as children to work or go to school without fear of deportation. Through the DACA Scholars Program, the Scholars receive academic and personal development mentorship, as well as financial aid to renew their DACA status.
These resources come at a critical time as fear and confusion have grown within immigrant communities. Between the threat of immigration raids and the fact that new DACA applications are no longer being accepted, families and students who rely on the federal program to remain in this country are unsettled and unsure what to do next.
“We’re working to provide equality for all our residents in Cicero because we’re not a sanctuary city,” Yamilet said. “We’re trying to bring awareness to people’s rights, especially the immigrant community.”
In return for the financial aid, the Scholars contribute to building a stronger neighborhood through community service that connects them with their neighbors. By the end of the program, each Scholar also produces a project on immigration. This year’s Scholars held a panel for community members to learn tips on navigating college as an undocumented student.
For Yamilet, this program hits close to home. “My whole family, my parents are immigrants, so being able to help on an issue that speaks so much to me is great,” she said.
She picked up the mantle from Michelle Ramirez, a former AmeriCorps member who started the program in 2017. Having understood the economic and educational needs in Cicero, Michelle introduced the DACA Scholars Program to cater to young adults and alleviate the financial burden of legal fees.
“DACA is very expensive, so I figured it would be an easy but impactful way of using [CCC’s] funds,” Michelle said. “I also love that part of the DACA Scholars Program is that you invest time in community. It’s like we help you, but you help us. [We’re] a ‘helper’ community.”
As the school year continues, Yamilet hopes the program will grow to assist more local students on their paths to greatness.
“Our program is great because we help [the Scholars] not only create their projects and become leaders, but we’re also trying to help them find resources,” Yamilet said. “We’re encouraging them to keep pushing for their goals.”