U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Robertson urges the new Americans to become civically involved in their communities.
STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — Fourteen people from 10 countries became United States citizens on the scenic grounds of Naumkeag on Wednesday.
The naturalization ceremony was held by Berkshire Immigrant Center and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in collaboration with The Trustees of Reservations.
There were smiles and flags waving all around as friends and family gathered in support of the new Americans. They originated from a diverse range of countries including Cambodia, Haiti, Kenya, Somalia, and Vietnam.
"I want to get the biggest thank you to all of you for being sworn in as new U.S. citizens, for everything that you have done and brought to this country, for everything that you will do, and for all that you are going to be sharing with everybody in your newfound home," Berkshire Immigrant Center Executive Director Michelle Lopez said.
"I'd like to acknowledge that 99.9 percent of us are immigrants, that we are on land that originates from the Stockbridge Munsee Mohican tribe who are now settled in Wisconsin."
Becoming a U.S. citizen is a lengthy process for many. Applicants have to first apply for naturalization, pay fees, have biometrics taken if needed, and have an interview before taking Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
Nicola Howe, who originates from Jamaica, has been anticipating this moment for eight years and now feels relieved.
"Now I can relax and I don't have to be thinking about anything immigration," she said. "Because it's always been planning for this moment, it's been eight years."
Carlos Hernandez of El Salvadore said he chose to become a citizen as soon as he had the opportunity to do so. His next step is helping his mother do the same.
"And so now that I have become a citizen, I feel happy about it," he said.
Federal Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson said naturalization ceremonies are the "most meaningful part of her job."
"We truly welcome you, we want you here, we need you as new citizens, you belong here," she said to the new citizens.
"Our country would not be what it is without people like you who've chosen to live here, who've chosen to raise your families here, who've chosen to work here. We value the contributions you've already made as residents of this country, we value the contributions you know you're going to make, and we know you're going to make as citizens of America."
Robertson reminded the group that memories, language, culture, traditions, and religion from their origin countries are important to who they are as individuals and should stay with them.
As Americans, she hopes that they will exercise their rights to fully participate in civic and cultural life in the U.S. while keeping in mind qualities like fairness, tolerance, compassion, and equality.
She also urged them to register to vote. To assist in this, the League of Women Voters of Central Berkshire County provided immediate voter registration.
"I firmly believe that the most important new light is gained today is the right to vote," Robertson said.
"Your vote can directly affect important questions, you can be as involved in elections as you want to be, you can campaign for the candidates of your choice, you can campaign about issues about what you feel strongly, you can be a candidate for elective office. I hope you'll make these kinds of contributions to how this country is governed. I hope there are many many more proud moments for you, your families and your loved ones as you participate in a new life, as you exercise the rights and obligations of the citizenship that you've earned."
Supervisory Immigration Service Officer for USCIS Corey Elya also announced that five requested name changes were approved.
During the ceremony, Jaedin King sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "America The Beautiful."
All attendees were invited to enjoy a red, white, and blue cake to celebrate the new citizens and refreshments in Naumkeag's garden with music by William Reyburn.
Director Brian Cruey said the Trustees were thrilled to have the ceremony at Naumkeag again after its first time on the grounds last year.
"This is such a meaningful, special, incredible event," he added. "We're just also proud to be a part of it."
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Two Berkshire Residents Join CDCSB Board of Directors
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire (CDCSB) welcomed two new members to its Board of Directors.
Don Eaton, of Stockbridge, and Joe Grachmal, of Great Barrington, were elected to serve a three-year term this week on the nonprofit's Board of Directors.
Don Eaton is an account director at Toole Insurance Agency in Lee. Professionally, Eaton works with clients in the construction and other related sectors in Massachusetts and Eastern New York, and holds the Certified Insurance Counselor and Construction Risk Insurance Specialist designations. In his personal time, he has devoted many years to volunteerism and philanthropy and currently serves as a deacon for the Congregational Church in Stockbridge. Don has a keen interest in affordable housing and is dedicated to supporting small businesses. He joined the CDCSB Board with the intent to serve on the Economic Development subcommittees and working closely with the organization's new Small Business Technical Assistance Program.
Joe Grachmal is a 2019 Harvard graduate and Great Barrington resident with a passion for municipal innovation and supporting small towns. In fact, Grachmal is currently developing a private municipal innovation company called Ulpian Labs, which will "engage the next generation of leaders to address crucial challenges facing small to mid-sized municipalities." He is also a Lead America Hometown Fellow. Joe has a passion for all things sustainable and took an interest in the CDCSB's mission of building affordable housing. With Joe's experience, he will serve on the Board's Marketing and Fundraising subcommittee and contribute to the work on developing affordable housing projects in the Berkshires.
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Southern Berkshire Ambulance will continue to be the primary EMS transport service for Great Barrington. However, this license allows an agreement with Southern Berkshire Ambulance to cross-staff their ambulances with GBFD staff if they are short on personnel. click for more
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