• OAK Street Initiative

OAK Street Spotlight- The Welcoming Center

Each month, OAK Street Initiative is pleased to highlight an organization whose mission and work aligns with the values and principles of OSI.

This month, OSI shines the spotlight on The Welcoming Center, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 2003 by Anne O'Callaghan whose mission is to promote “inclusive economic growth through immigrant integration.”

After immigrating from Ireland, O’Callaghan, a physical therapist, found it difficult to transfer her professional credentials and obtain employment in the United States. It took three years for her to obtain the necessary licensure to work in Pennsylvania and begin to practice again. The Welcoming Center was born from O’Callaghan’s personal experience as well her experience volunteering with other immigrants and her desire to create an organization where immigrants could easily access information, training and programs about English as a second language, jobs, and entreupenurship.

The Welcoming Center Founder Anne O'Callaghan with OAK Street Initiative Co-Founder, Dr. Kevin Baumlin in 2019.

Since its inception, The Welcoming Center has served more than 17,000 people from over 150 countries who now call the Philadelphia region home.

Immigrants have contributed significantly to Philadelphia’s population growth in recent years. Foreign-born residents make up close to 15% of Philadelphia’s population, the highest levels since the 1940s, and nearly 1 in 5 Philadelphians in the labor force is an immigrant. Suburban counties have seen growth in the number of immigrants as well, with foreign-born residents making up about 10 percent of the population in the 10 counties surrounding Philadelphia.

As the number of immigrants in the region increases, the networks of support, employment and training opportunities, and entrepreneurship programs available through The Welcoming Center become more critical for helping foreign-born residents and their families thrive.

The Welcoming Center provides services for entry-level workers, high skill professionals, entrepreneurs, and immigrants looking to engage in the civic life of our city and region. The organization’s programs include those for immigrants with foreign university degrees looking to find meaningful jobs, those for immigrants with foreign university degrees looking to find professional-level jobs, programs to help immigrants co-currently learn English language and occupational skills, business development programs, and a Global Craft Market where immigrant artists share their hand-made work. The Welcoming Center offers a 5-month program that prepares immigrants to fully participate in civic engagement in Philadelphia and the region. The organization also helps immigrants to connect with the resources needed to become naturalized citizens.

The Welcoming Center’s Global Craft Market allows immigrant artists to share their hand-made, fair trade crafts.

The Global Craft Market celebrates art and traditions from around the world.

OAK Street Initiative Co-Founder Patrick Mahanger is a board member for The Welcoming Center and knows first hand the life-changing impact of programs and services for immigrants.

“Immigrants bring vibrancy to our city and region and it is important for us to honor the many contributions of foreign-born residents. As an immigrant myself, I also know it is critical to have programs and services in place that help immigrants succeed. The Welcoming Center does God’s work and is truly committed to building community and growing opportunity for immigrants like me.”
Patrick Mahanger, Co-Founder, OAK Street Initiative & Board Member, The Welcoming Center

OAK Street Initiative’s Co-Founders Dr. Kevin Baumlin and Mr. Patrick Mahanger with Mr. Mahanger’s sister Veronica Mahanger at The Welcoming Center’s 2019 Solas Awards. Patrick and Veronica Mahanger immigrated to the United States from British Guyana.

For more information on The Welcoming Center, visit welcomingcenter.org

Images courtesy: The Welcoming Center, Mr. Patrick Mahanger and Dr. Kevin Baumlin.

The opinions expressed in this article do not represent those of the University of Pennsylvania Health System or the Perelman School of Medicine.

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