Meet Selene, Houston Volunteer Citizenship Instructor

Selene Escalera with students

Selene Escalera (center) with students

Last month, Neighborhood Centers Inc., a New Americans Campaign partner in Houston, celebrated Selene Escalera, a Citizenship Instructor who has volunteered with the organization for two years. Meet Selene in the excerpt below by Neighborhood Centers and help us honor all of our volunteers during this National Volunteer Week (April 12-18):


Becoming a U.S. citizen is not an easy task: eligible applicants must pay $680 for the application fee and go through an interview and an exam that tests ability to speak, read, and write in English, as well as knowledge of U.S. history and of the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution. The Immigration & Citizenship program at Neighborhood Centers always strives to offer comprehensive citizenship classes and other preparation assistance to individuals seeking naturalization.

Our volunteers play a major role in this effort. Each year we recruit, train and mentor volunteers who serve as citizenship instructors. A veteran instructor provides mentorship, and our staff of experts provides one-on-one training to ensure that our volunteers are prepared to teach effectively. Two years ago, we were fortunate to meet Ms. Selene Escalera by a friend who was already a Neighborhood Centers volunteer. Ms. Escalera had been a volunteer teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) and citizenship classes in Wisconsin for the previous ten years. Upon moving to Houston, she wanted to continue to volunteer and we were lucky enough to be her choice. Today we want to say thank you to Selene for choosing to serve the community at Baker-Ripley and for helping our friends and neighbors in the Gulfton area to achieve their dream of becoming American citizens. We sat down with Selene to hear more about her experience volunteering with Neighborhood Centers:

What do you enjoy most about teaching and volunteering? I love the dynamic of the classroom and working with adult students. They are so fun and often laugh at my jokes. It’s an amazing feeling to see them acquire knowledge and eventually pass their exams. It’s 99% their effort, but it’s cool to think that I am 1% part of their journey.

What are two things you do to help you be an effective teacher? I try to listen to the students and point them in the right direction because I want them to feel empowered through knowledge. I also try to integrate little details into class time to keep the student’s attention. Many of them work long hours and come to the night class tired or distracted. So I ring a little bell to get their attention, make jokes, and give them smiley faces (“carita feliz”) when they’ve done a good job. I want class time to be fun, not a chore.

What makes you want to come back and volunteer with Neighborhood Centers? I love the community and eagerness of everyone, both staff and students, to get involved. The campus at Baker-Ripley is also really lovely, and I like being able to teach in such great facilities.

Posted on April 13, 2015

Our Impact

  • The Campaign has completed over 3,700 naturalization workshops and clinics.
  • Over 250,000 citizenship applications completed since July 2011.

    Saved aspiring citizens and their families over $206million in legal and application fees.
  • Adopted scalable technology. MP3 players, Google Voice, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services are being used to enhance naturalization service delivery.
  • Expanded New American Workforce (an effort to provide naturalization assistance within corporations) which has partnered with over 100 businesses across the nation, ranging from hotels in Miami to American Apparel in Los Angeles.
  • Deployed Citizenshipworks, an online tool, across the Campaign in multiple settings and languages. A newly redesigned platform guides applicants through through their citizenship application from start to finish and connects applicants to legal help at partnering non-profits.
  • Were instrumental in inspiring the US Citizenship and Immigration Service to support the Citizenship Corners initiative.
  • Created innovative partnerships with public libraries, school districts, universities, social service agencies, and employers, all of which yield not only greater numbers of applicants but also greater awareness of the naturalization process.
  • Deployed a large-scale volunteer recruitment program through an e-learning course.

    Reached diverse communities. Local partners consistently outreach and provide culturally competent and language-appropriate services.
Learn more from our
Impact Report.

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Who We're Helping

People come to America from all over the world with dreams of achieving a better life for themselves and their families and calling this great nation home. Eight million people who live, work, and pay taxes in this country are eligible for citizenship, yet only about eight percent of them naturalize each year. Find out more about these individuals and the barriers they face.Read More