Governor Blagojevich announces the opening of the first Illinois Welcoming Center for New Americans

State, community, and religious leaders cut the ribbon to open the State's first one stop multi-agency service center to assist immigrants and refugees in Illinois

Officials from Governor Rod R. Blagojevich's Administration today joined dozens of community and religious leaders to cut the ribbon for the first Illinois Welcoming Center, which will bring information and access to state programs, and serve as a community based contact for thousands of new Americans seeking to better assimilate into the state.

"The first Welcoming Center is a key step forward in the way the State works with new, hard working Americans who need information and services to make Illinois their home," said Gov. Blagojevich. "By bringing state services directly to the community we are breaking down barriers. Through the Welcoming Center, the State becomes an active partner with immigrant families to help them achieve the American Dream."

Located at a Triton College facility in West Suburban Melrose Park, the first Welcoming Center will begin to execute the goals and policies set forth by the Governor's New American's Initiative by making needed state services more accessible to Illinois' growing immigrant population.

The Welcoming Center offers a one stop shop for services in healthcare, education, labor and employment available through the state to help newcomers transition into their communities. The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) and the Governor's Office of New Americans are working with nine state agencies in order to bring direct access to services to qualified applicants.

The Center will also provide referrals to a number of other state programs as well as serve as space where other community-based and/or non-profit organizations offer services such as legal clinics or job fairs. Clients can also be enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes or other kinds of workshops. The success of the center will rest upon the strength of the partnership between Illinois' state agencies and the level of community support.

"Thanks to the Governor's leadership, the State of Illinois recognizes the great cultural, social, and economic values immigrants bring to the state, and seeks to capitalize on this potential." said IDHS Assistant Secretary Grace Hou. "The Welcoming Center will help provide immigrants with quick and easy access to essential services such as immigration-related matters, healthcare, employment, childcare, English language training, education, and nutrition information."

The Welcoming Center is one of the main recommendations that came out of the New Americans Policy Council and the State Interagency Taskforce, formed by the Governor's 2005 New Americans Executive Order. Last year, both bodies assessed immigrants' needs, resources and relationships with the State and helped establish national priorities for improving immigrant integration. The first Welcoming Center is a pilot program to turn the suggestions of the New American's Policy Council and the Interagency Taskforce into a comprehensive facility.

"The Melrose Park facility is an ideal location because of its strong immigrant history and population. The community is excited to be home to Illinois' first Welcoming Center, and thankful for the Governor's vision to make this happen," said Welcoming Center director Silvia Villa.

"Our Welcoming Centers will change the way immigrants integrate into our community," said Jose Luis Gutierrez, Director of the Governor's Office of New American Policy and Advocacy. "Rather than getting lost in the shuffle, new Americans and other community members will be able to get access to all the state services they need in just one stop. As an immigrant myself, I know how crucial this kind of support can be, and I thank the Governor for his leadership in making it happen."

"When I first came to this country I spent a lot of time and energy just getting the information I needed and figuring out who I needed to talk with to even get my business started. I think we're lucky in Illinois because we have a Governor who understands the immigrant experience, and knows what hard working immigrants need in order to succeed. I'm excited that the first Welcoming Center will open its doors in my community to help other new Americans get the information and services they need to be successful and build a better future for their kids," said Sergio Suarez, a Melrose Park resident and owner of a chain of Mexican cuisine restaurants.

The Illinois Welcoming Center is located at 1708 Main Street, Melrose Park, Illinois 60160.

The phone number is 708-338-6500. In order to accommodate the schedules of working immigrants, the Welcoming Center will be open nontraditional hours: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 8:30am to 5:00pm and Tuesday and Thursday from 10:30am to 7:00pm. Arrangements can be made for late and Sunday workshops.