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  • Writer's pictureAbby Ellis

Association House Participant becomes U.S. Citizen

Participant, Leonides Alvarez, holding her official U.S. citizen document

There are many obstacles in life, but one Association House participant overcame a hurdle that most Americans take for granted – becoming a U.S. citizen.

Leonides, born in Cocula, Mexico, moved to the United States when she was 9 years old. Leonides lost her mother in 2010. Consequently, she found herself in unstable living situations due to lack of family and resources here in the United States. Just three years ago, she came to Association House of Chicago where she thrived with stable housing and a supportive social and educational environment. She was happier, healthier, and began developing many new friendships. As part of these programs, she meets regularly with her case manager, Izamar, and the Community Connections Supervisor, Ana. With Izamar and Ana’s help, Leonides wanted to work toward one of her long-term dreams of becoming a U.S. citizen. They knew this was a daunting journey due to the scarcity of appointments, the lengthy process, and little to no guarantee of getting an initial appointment. However, the benefits outmatched the risk – healthcare, ability to work, take transit, travel, and more. Leonides was set on applying for U.S. citizenship.

It was a huge decision to start the application, but both Izamar and Ana weren’t surprised in the least. They describe Leonides as intelligent, talented, funny, and hardworking. She is loved among her friends and never fails to put a smile on your face. As part of the LSE program, Leonides works on vocational functioning.

“Me comienzo todos los días limpiar el baño de las niñas.” Leonides said. In English, “I started every day by cleaning the girls’ bathroom.”

Leonides takes pride in her job, and says being able to work is one of her biggest motivators for applying for citizenship. So, Leonides, along with her case workers, were determined to do whatever it takes to help her get there.

Leonides’ citizenship journey began in early 2020 when her case manager reached out to Centro Romero, a Latin American Legal Assistance Service Program. Centro Romero guided them through the citizenship process and submitted the correct paperwork and waiver form. This saved Leonides thousands of dollars in fees - a huge barrier for many people who are in the same position. Four months after submitting the paperwork, Leonides got a call for her first interview with the U.S. Office of Social Security.

“Me sentí un poco nerviosa,” Leonides recalls. In English, “I felt a little nervous.”

In the height of the pandemic, she did not want to miss her opportunity to move forward in the process. So, Leonides masked up and completed her first interview.

Leonides waited one year and felt her journey might have come to an end. But, she continued on – telling jokes to her friends, having movie nights with her roommate, and keeping up with her favorite telenovelas. She made the best of the pandemic situation. One of her favorite memories was receiving her stimulus check and having to reschedule her doctor’s appointment to do some much-needed retail therapy. According to her case manager, she nearly emptied the store! It was a day she will never forget.

Then one day, Leonides got the call she was hoping for! She had moved on to the next phase – fingerprinting and her final interview. Leonides and her case worker patiently waited three hours until a lawyer interviewed her. Leonides’ nerves were high, but she persevered through the 45-minute-long interview and left, not knowing when she would hear back. Not even a week later, Leonides was told to report to the courthouse to take the Naturalization Oath and become a United States citizen! There was no time to waste – Leonides and her case worker went straight to Burlington to find an outfit that was appropriate for such a momentous occasion.

Leonides put on her brand new red dress with her high heels- which she’s since sworn off- and went downtown to the courthouse. She proudly took the Naturalization Oath, and her case manager snapped some pictures to commemorate the moment. You can’t help but notice Leonides’ huge smile in every picture. Leonides says that she is most excited to start working, and eventually travel back to her hometown in Mexico which she hasn’t visited in over a decade. Association House is so proud of Leonides and can’t wait to see where this next chapter takes her.


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