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Three local organizations will be honored at the 2022 Solas Awards. Photo Courtesy of The Welcoming Center.
Three local organizations will be honored at the 2022 Solas Awards. Photo Courtesy of The Welcoming Center.

The Welcoming Center presents its 19th annual Solas Awards

On April 27, three immigrant-led, local organizations will be honored for their critical work lifting the voices of the region’s immigrants and refugees.

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The 19th annual Solas Award event will be returning later this month.

The Solas Award is the Welcoming Center’s annual fundraising event, and serves to shine a light on the contributions immigrants are making in the region.  

The word “solas” is the Irish translation for “light,” a nod to Anne O’Callaghan, the physical therapist from Ireland who emigrated to the United States in 1970, and later founded the Welcoming Center in 2003. 

After being held virtually last year, Peter Gonzales, President & CEO of the Welcoming Center, noted that he is very excited to bring the event back in-person again this year.

“This year, what’s kind of exciting and unique in our evolution of the Solas Awards is we’re actually shining a light on participants of Welcoming Center programs,” said Gonzales.

This year, three organizations will be honored for their work in addressing important issues and lifting the voices of the voices of immigrants throughout the Philadelphia region throughout the pandemic. 

One such organization is I Belong Philly.

Composed of graduates of the Welcoming Center’s Immigrant Leadership Institute and International Professionals Program — two programs designed to prepare immigrants with the necessary skills, knowledge and tools to succeed in civic U.S. life, as well as the U.S. workforce, respectively — the group decided to stay connected after graduating to create opportunities for more immigrants in the region. 

“They wanted to continue to do the work that they learned to do in the programming that we offered,” said Gonzales. 

I Belong Philly is comprised of graduates of The Welcoming Center's Immigrant Leadership Institute and International Professionals Program. Photo Courtesy of I Belong Philly.
I Belong Philly is comprised of graduates of The Welcoming Center's Immigrant Leadership Institute and International Professionals Program. Photo Courtesy of I Belong Philly.

The volunteer group’s mission is to facilitate a space to create dialogue, build relationships, network, and promote and appreciate culture, all with an eye toward making Philadelphia a better and more welcoming city for its immigrants. 

“It sort of demonstrates the impact and that the Welcoming Center can have this ripple effect, where we may not be able to do all the things that we’d like to do, but people who’ve benefited in some way, participated in the programs, have developed their own vision for what impact they could be having beyond the Welcoming Center,” added Gonzales.

The second organization is Let’s Talk Philly Conversation Circles.

Co-founded in 2020 by Karen Cervera Noriega from Mexico, and Yushan Chou from Taiwan, the organization was formed just after the start of the pandemic to serve as an extension of the Welcoming Center’s Intercultural Wellness Program. 

Made up of immigrants and refugees from diverse countries and cultures, the goal of the organization is to improve community wellness and overcome barriers to social and economic integration through language building and leadership skills. 

Let's Talk Philly Conversation Circles aims to improve community wellness and help immigrants overcome barriers to social and economic integration. Photo Courtesy of Let's Talk Philly Conversation Circles.
Let's Talk Philly Conversation Circles aims to improve community wellness and help immigrants overcome barriers to social and economic integration. Photo Courtesy of Let's Talk Philly Conversation Circles. 

“They are a great example,” said Gonzales, “of women who never would have met each other in any other circumstance … [They] developed a very close friendship and bond as participants in the program at the Welcoming Center.” 

“And they decided to continue to do the work when they graduated, of bringing other immigrants together in an online format, to continue practicing and improving their English, but [also] having conversations about specific topics that helped people recognize that they’re not alone,” Gonzales added.

The third organization is Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos en Filadelfia (Association of Mexican Business Owners of Philadelphia).

As the pandemic impacted so many immigrant-owned businesses, several were unable to access relief funds, mostly due to the fact they didn’t know the process of applying for funds or grants.    

The Association of Mexican Business Owners of Philadelphia was formed after a group of Mexican business owners in the region discovered they were experiencing many of the same challenges, and with a lack of Hispanic business associations in existence specifically tailored to address common concerns, they decided to create their own. 

The group then organized a GoFundMe campaign in 2021, and became a key contributor in promoting the cultural and economic contributions Latino merchants bring to the city. 

Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos en Filadelfia aims to promote the cultural and economic contributions Latino merchants bring to the city. Photo Courtesy of Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos en Filadelfia.
Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos en Filadelfia aims to promote the cultural and economic contributions Latino merchants bring to the city. Photo Courtesy of Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos en Filadelfia.

“We helped them with a number of things around technical assistance, and ultimately, many of them participated in our business training program, as well,” said Gonzales. “But this group continues to grow.”

These organizations serve as just a small piece of the overall puzzle of what immigrants contribute to Philadelphia, and the nation.

Gonzales credits these three groups for their valuable work over the past couple years.

“All three of [the organizations] have been very, very active during the pandemic to support other immigrants, and they do it without fanfare,” he said.

Gonzales continued, “They’re not the traditional groups… or individuals that might be recognized for their work, but they are doing some of the most difficult and challenging work of making sure that people are included — those who have been left out in accessing economic opportunity, access to health and well-being services that are critical, access to learning — and recognizing that you don’t have to depend on other institutions, that you have assets among your own community and amongst yourselves, and that when coming together, you actually have a great deal of power in that collective.” 

As the organization's annual fundraiser, or as Gonzales calls it, “friendraiser event,” this year’s Solas Award will also see a new $50,000 Match Challenge, as board chair Hao-Li Tai Loh and her husband Evan Loh have pledged to put up a $50,000 sponsorship and match for any new sponsorships, donations, and increases from last year’s event.

“That’s helping drive up a lot of donors’ giving,” noted Gonzales. “That frankly has been a big boost. We’re seeing a lot of energy around that match.”

The 2022 Solas Award is set to take place Wednesday, Apr. 27, 2022, at the Cherry Street Pier from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. 

The idea is to create a “block party-type” atmosphere, which will feature a large event space, indoor and outdoor activities, food trucks, interactive exhibits, music, networking opportunities, and much more. 

With this being the 19th annual edition of the event, Gonzales noted that this year’s festivities will be “a step towards next year's big celebration.”

To purchase a ticket for the 2022 Solas Award or learn more about the annual celebration, click here

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