ROBERT PORE | The Grand Island Independent
GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) — Sometimes an immigrant to this country, seeking citizenship, can teach us or make us realize that not only is the United States a country of immigrants, but also how important and a privilege being an American really is. Recently, the Greater Grand Island Community Foundation and the Multicultural Coalition joined forces to create The Khadija Abdudaim Citizenship Assistance Fund.
The fund is also referred to as the Daim Fund. It offers financial assistance to immigrants wishing to gain or are in the process of gaining U.S. citizenship.
Melissa DeLaet, CEO of the Greater Island Community Fund, said the foundation was glad to assist Zac and Sarah Griess and their family in honoring the legacy of their friend Khadija Hussein Abdudaim.
“The Daim Fund is an opportunity for us to expand our work focused on equity and inclusion,” DeLaet told The Grand Island Independent.
The funding is available to help immigrants with fees they face while working toward citizenship.
The Griesses started the fund to honor Khadija, a Sudanese woman the family helped tutor to gain her U.S. citizenship.
Sarah Griess and her husband, Zac, moved to Grand Island in 2015. Zac Griess became a board member of the Multicultural Coalition.
“I was also wanting a way to connect with the community and get involved,” Sarah Griess said.
She volunteered for the Multicultural Coalition’s Citizenship Readiness Program where Griess met Khadija in late 2017.
But it became more for the Griess family than just tutoring Khadija to become a citizen. It was also about learning how special immigrants believe becoming an American means to them and their families.
Griess and Khadija met once or twice a week. During those meetings, she assisted Khadija in learning English and teaching her about civics.
“Through that process, she and I became really good friends,” Griess said. “She kind of adopted me and my boys and we adopted her into our family.”
Griess said when she volunteered at coalition she didn’t realize how much it would change her and her family’s life.
“I certainly didn’t expect to gain a relationship with somebody that I would end up loving,” Griess said. “She probably taught me more than I taught her. She was an incredible human being.”
She said Khadija was involved in the Sudanese community in Grand Island. Khadija came to the U.S. from Sudan in 2012.
“She had a love for learning and a love for people,” Griess said. “She just became a part of our family and we became a part of hers.”
She said Khadija spent some holidays with the Griesses.
“I have two little boys and Khadija would teach them about her culture and do cultural foods and other things with us,” Griess said.
“We introduced her to American culture,” she said. “We just started doing life together.”
Khadija became an American citizen in 2018.
“We celebrated that day,” Griess said. “She worked very hard on that. She was very excited about that.”
She said Khadija couldn’t wait until 2020 so she could vote as an American in her first election.
“She was very excited about that,” Griess said.
But before Khadija could vote, Griess said she was diagnosed with cancer.
That was in 2018, the year she became a citizen. Griess said Khadija battled her cancer so she could further enjoy her new home country.
As her Sudanese culture says, Griess said, God came to take Khadija home in June 2020, nearly five months before the 2020 presidential election.
“It was a very hard loss, not only for us, but for many people in the community,” she said. “She made a friend out of everybody that she met.”
Griess said Khadija was a student at the Literacy Council, along with her involvement with the Multicultural Coalition.
She said when they launched the Daim Fund in Khadija’s honor, there was “just an outpouring of people who did not know that she had passed.”
Khadija died in Kentucky where members of her family live.
“There was this outpouring of people in the community who knew and loved her,” Griess said. “She was just a really beloved person.”
When Khadija died, Griess said she and her husband wanted to honor her memory.
“She inspired us and so many people in so many ways,” she said. “She showed us the beauty of having such rich and diverse relationships. We learned new concepts of community and family from her.”
That was how the Khadija Abdudaim Citizenship Assistance Fund (Daim Fund) was started.
“Citizenship was so important to her,” Griess said. “It established a sense of permanency for her here. She spent so much of her life running from war. Being in America, being in this community was safe and she wanted to own her place here and have a voice in the election that would count.”
Griess said the Daim Fund was created to help other people “to anchor in with a sense of permanence and a sense of belonging.”
She said when Khadija became a citizen, she felt she was no longer an immigrant or a refuge or a permanent resident, but she was an American.
“That really helps people to take ownership of where they are,” Griess said. “It helps increase security in life.”
She said the Daim Fund assists with the fees related to the citizenship application. The application has a fee of $725.
“That is a lot of money for a lot of individuals, especially when you have a family of four or a family of six,” Griess said. “That adds up really quickly. We wanted that financial barrier to be removed for individuals who needed that assistance so people can do all that they can to study English, learn civics and do everything they need for the examine. But, if they didn’t have the money for that application, it was keeping people from getting their citizenship.”
With the help of the Greater Grand Island Community Foundation, Griess said they were able to make the Daim Fund a reality.
“They embraced it and encouraged it and helped us work it through,” she said. “We drew in the Multicultural Coalition as a partner. They were so invested in Khadija’s story as well.”
The Multicultural Coalition helps screen applications and make sure individuals are meeting qualifications and pays the fees for the applicant’s citizenship application.
Griess said 100% of the funds go directly to the application fee.
“Investing in citizenship is investing in the American dream,” said Audrey Lutz, executive director of the Multicultural Coalition.
Lutz said new citizens earn on average 8% to 11% more income annually than their noncitizen counterparts.
“The Daim Fund creates a legacy where immigrants are able to be successful and truly embrace their new country as home,” she said.
Griess said many people in the community have embraced the Daim Fund and are donating to it.
“Much of the feedback we have gotten from individuals seeking citizenship is that it just feels hopeful for them and that there is a community of individuals rooting for them and are willing to put their own time and money in helping them gain permanency in the place where they are going to spend the rest of their lives.”