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story.lead_photo.caption Dogwood Literacy Council student Araceli Arriaga holds her U.S. citizenship papers. The nonprofit celebrated three students on Oct. 14 who passed the exam to become U.S. citizens. Over an eight month period, eight literacy council students have become U.S. citizens with the nonprofit's support.

Dogwood Literacy Council recently celebrated the achievements of three students who passed the exam to become U.S. citizens.

The council is a nonprofit organization that offers literacy tutoring, citizenship classes and other forms of support to community members in the Siloam Springs area. The organization's board members, employees, students and their families gathered on Oct. 14 for the celebration.

One of the new U.S. citizens, Araceli Arriaga, has been attending classes in English and civics at Dogwood Literacy for several years. Arriaga works as a full-time tailor at a local cleaning shop. She has juggled her work responsibilities with her care of three children and her classes. Arriaga and other students dedicate a lot of time in order to accomplish their academic goals, and Dogwood Literacy supports these efforts in any way possible.

According to Madison Bearden, a work-study at Dogwood Literacy and a junior intercultural studies major, celebrating student achievement aids in many ways. The council's parties provide an opportunity for students and family to gather together and develop friendship, community and a sense of motivation. By affirming the accomplishment of a student, Dogwood Council believes that other students will be encouraged to continue to strive towards their own goals.

Additionally, the celebrations are often in a potluck form, creating a celebration of culture, heritage and delicious food. Charlie Muessemeyer, the executive director of Dogwood Literacy, says that the celebrations "can sometimes be a taste of home."

The Dogwood Literacy Council offers many opportunities to educate and support students in their goals. They offer English classes that help students succeed in everyday life and connect with the community. They also have a weekly citizenship class that aids students in learning and studying the material for the citizenship test.

Eight students have become U.S. citizens in the last eight months as a result of the organization's support. Along with these classes, the Literacy Council offers tutoring and a larger support system.

Muessemeyer has encouraged her former students to exercise their new citizenship.

"I have former students come by the office to ask me to come with them to vote, because it is their first time and they are nervous," she said. "We take the short walk from Dogwood Literacy to the community building so they can vote. I am so blessed to be able to continue to encourage these new citizens as they vote."

The Dogwood Literacy Council is able to operate thanks to volunteering, donations and help from various community members who serve as teachers and board members. Most of the classes that are offered at Dogwood Literacy are a result of volunteer tutors.

One such volunteer, Yarelis Batista Atencio, is a sophomore engineering major here at John Brown University. She signed up to work at the Dogwood Literacy council without fully realizing what it was, she said.

"Once I met the people and heard their stories, I realized how cool it was," Atencio said. "I didn't really know what I was choosing, but if I had to redo it, I would choose it again."

Volunteering, donating or even telling others about the work at Dogwood Literacy are great ways to get involved. Volunteers are especially needed during the summer months when many JBU students return home for the summer.

Bearden said the council is a good place for JBU students to volunteer, as the council falls under the university's "Head, Heart, Hand" motto.

"For me, it incorporates all of (the JBU motto)," Bearden said. "I have a big interest in people of other cultures. I want to know their experiences and their stories and then develop relationships with them. I want them to have not only a tutor-student relationship but one of friendship, and at Dogwood I am able to while doing hands-on action."

General News on 12/01/2019

Print Headline: Dogwood Literacy Council celebrates new US Citizens

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