Welcoming Falls Church is building a community of neighbors. How can we do this? Some of this is cultural. We can always smile, prioritize relationships, engage with newcomers (immigrants and otherwise), and bring people together. Culture is contagious, and a welcoming culture brings life. In addition, we hope that you will consider learning, serving, and living with us--perhaps in some new ways.
Below are some of our thoughts about how we can build a community of neighbors together. We think about this in terms of learning, serving, and living – together.
Learn. Start with a great TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, "The Danger of a Single Story." This TED Talk – with over 19 million views – highlights the ways that we all benefit from a variety of perspectives of life, society, and community. Then continue with Ms. Adichie’s Americanah – our next book recommendation – for "[a] knockout of a novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color. . . . A marvel." (NPR) Watch also for a podcast about the book Americanah from our podcast partner Three Way in early 2020.
Learn. Read Imbolo Mbue's book Behold the Dreamers, considered by many to be one of the top narratives of the contemporary immigrant experience -- an Oprah pick, PEN/Faulkner award-winner, NY Times/Washington Post best book of the year, etc. This was our first recommended book in 2018! FCCPS Superintendent Peter Noonan made the book one of his recommended summer reads in June 2019, we brought Ms. Mbue to Falls Church in September 2019, and she spoke powerfully about Immigration and the American Dream as well as her personal experiences living in Falls Church, before 250 people at two public talks. Enjoy a podcast review of the book from our podcasting media partner Three Way by Falls Church resident and Three Way creator Erin Keating here – and consider selecting this if you are part of a book club.
Learn. Learning is not limited to adults. Do you have a child age 10-15? We strongly recommend the book Refugee a by Alan Gratz (and have invited the author to Falls Church for a future author talk). Let us know if you’re interested in the acute crisis of refugee policy and caring for refugees locally, and to learn more join us for a talk hosted by the Falls Church Presbyterian Church’s Justice Ministry on Refugee Resettlement in the U.S. on Sunday, January 12, 2020, at 12:15pm (see here for details).
Learn. Finally, learn about the facts of immigration. The Pew Research Center, which does fantastic survey research on a host of issues, has designed an "email course" about U.S. immigration that you can learn more about here. This class is free and is available anytime, anywhere. In addition, Pew's most recent report on immigration will help you understand the complicated landscape of immigration policy. Consider learning together with others in the community and taking action - let us know if you'd like to join a study/discussion group (especially if you'd like to lead such a group).
Serve. We love the idea of partnering with great, local organizations that are doing great work in the community. The Falls Church Presbyterian Church has a wonderful tradition of Welcome Table dinners, open to all comers, on the first and third Wednesday of each month. FCPC needs volunteers for their dinners, particularly on the third Wednesday of each month. This is a twice-monthly service opportunity, suitable for one-time or regular volunteers. Register to serve on the FCPC website, or, if you have any questions, contact Hannah Jordan for more information about getting involved.
Serve. Another great local organization is our partner Comunidad, which operates afterschool reading and youth leadership programs at the Willston Multi-Cultural Center, a Fairfax County government community center located behind Target at Seven Corners. Comunidad is in need of volunteer reading buddies on Tuesday and/or Thursday afternoons. This is a regular, once- or twice-weekly service opportunity that is open to students as young as seventh grade and to adults. Email Comunidad Founder and Executive Director Maralee Gutierrez for information about getting involved.
Serve. Spend Yourself Food Pantry (which is sponsored by Columbia Baptist Church) is another great, local organization. We organize a group of eight volunteers to servet together on the third Saturday of each month. This service opportunity is suitable for one-time or regular volunteers – and is good for families with children as young as third or fourth grade. Register on Signup Genius here.
Serve. The Falls Church City Public Schools (FCCPS) is a great partner and is doing good work with international families. FCCPS's creation of a Family Resource Center (FRC) to serve these families is a great story. FCCPS does have one volunteer need: the schools are looking for volunteers in the community who have the ability (and time) to translate for parents who are in need of support. If you can potentially help with this, please contact Dr. Jennifer Santiago, FCCPS Coordinator of EL Services, here.
Serve. Visit us and learn about these and other service activities at a Community Service Fair hosted by the Social Justice Committee of Falls Church and the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, at Falls Church Episcopal Church on Monday, January 20, 10:30am-12:00pm. And please join the Social Justice Community’s MLK Day march and listen to a speaker before and after the event too, see here for more information.
Live. We love the idea of bringing people together for dinners. One way to do this is in a medium- to large-group, with an international theme. Join us on Saturday, January 18, 6:00pm, for our second Community International Dinner at the Falls Church Community Center. Friends and families welcome. Meet others interested in Welcoming Falls Church. Learn about activities we are organizing We'll share a cultural exchange theme at this dinner - including some hands-on activities to roll dumplings and enjoy other Lunar New Year traditions (Lunar New Year is later in January). This is very family-friendly. Kids can learn how to make dumplings before dinner, then after dinner can play in the Community Center Open Gym or Teen Center. After dinner, adults (and older kids who will like to stay) will recognize and explore some the history of residents of the area who came from Vietnam and how Eden Center became the East Coast's leading center for Vietnamese culture and commerce. And then we will have intentional conversation in small groups about how to make Falls Church more welcoming for immigrants and refugees. Oh, and we'll probably have some good dinner options :-) This is a potluck - bring a dish sufficient for your group, but expect a fair number of Lunar New Year themed dishes. Register to join us on Eventbrite here.
Live. Most ambitiously, think about what you can uniquely do to weave the social fabric of our community. What is your neighborhood like? Who are your friends? Who are your acquaintances? Whatever your situation, bring people together. Hold a block party that would not happen otherwise. Hold a Play Street (this is a great City of Falls Church program). And whatever you do, make a special effort to make newcomers (especially international friends) feel welcome, to overcome one of the principal divisions in our society. It is more important than ever to express a welcoming spirit to people who may not feel as welcome in the United States as we'd like. Whatever your race, creed, ethnic background, or socioeconomic status, join us to express hospitality towards immigrants and refugees, to create opportunity for us all.
Live. Finally, this spring we will be organizing "Listen First" small group conversations focusing on immigration, ethnicity, and race, as part of the National Week of Conversation April 17-25, 2020. We will hold our first (first annual?) Conversation and Community Service Week to coincide with this week – which will also include – SAVE THE DATE – a fun, springtime event at Mr. Brown’s Park in downtown Falls Church on Thursday, April 23, 2020.
We hope you join us in Welcoming Falls Church. Embrace a welcoming spirit, sign up for one or more activities, and if you have not already done so provide us your information in the form here, so that we can be in touch with you proactively about future activities. We look forward to engaging with area residents, civic and business leaders, our schools and many others, to build a community of neighbors.