Jazmin Karns: NIEP community organizer highlight

Get to know one of the eight National Immigrant Empowerment Project, or NIEP, community organizers that are advocating alongside members of their community and empowering the immigrant community to take the lead in creating long-lasting, positive changes in their cities.

1. Where do you work and what is your main role within the organization?

I work at Sierra Community House in Lake Tahoe, Calif., as a community organizer. My main role is to promote immigrant integration in our community as well as coordinate long and short-term projects.

2. Why do you enjoy working with the immigrant and refugee community?

I enjoy working with the immigrant and refugee community because I am an immigrant myself. I know what immigrants must go through to succeed in a foreign country. Moving to a new country with a different culture and language can be very overwhelming and stressful. I want to provide opportunities to people who are struggling to adapt and integrate into the United States.

3. What inspired you to enter this field of work?

When I moved to the United States five years ago, it was very disorienting. Everything was a struggle and unfamiliar and this was exacerbated by the fact that I left behind everything I had ever known. Immigrating to a new country is overwhelming and integrating into a new culture is extremely hard. My personal experience is what inspired me to work in this field. Working for Sierra Community House allows me to help others overcome barriers and mitigate the strain felt by newcomers.

4. In your opinion, what benefits does integration offer your community? What strategies have you found most impactful when promoting integration?

Integration is a crucial piece for equity. It brings people together and creates a stronger and inclusive environment where we can all benefit from each other. We are stronger together and in our community. We promote immigrant integration because we want all to feel welcome, safe, included and empowered. It is a mutually beneficial relationship because we also learn from their life experiences and the culture and traditions that they bring from their countries of origin. Integration is rewarding, valuable and benefits everyone in the community.

5. How have community organizing efforts impacted your community?

During this short period of time and in the middle of a health and economic crisis, we have learned that little things can really affect people lives. Due to this pandemic, our efforts have been focused on COVID-19 prevention and vaccine information as well as providing resources available for financial assistance, food distribution, and many others. We do not want our community to be without resources that would beneficiate their health and financial situation due to fears around migratory status.

6. In what ways have immigrants and refugees been involved in grassroots organizing?

Immigrants and refugees have played a significant role in grassroots movements. While my immigration experience came with its own set of challenges, these issues were nothing compared to what others have experienced. The price paid by some to build a life in another country has compelled many people to fight back in hopes of altering the path for the next generation. There are many grassroots movements that are important to immigrants and refugees. Some people are fighting for separated families and others fight for legal defense and representation for those who have no voice. Whatever reason we choose to fight for, we do so because of how much we struggled on our own path.

7. How has the immigrant community been empowered in your community? Why is it beneficial for them to feel empowered?

The immigrant community has been empowered by knowing that we are here to support them when needed. Throughout the year, we conduct several workshops with the goal of educating and preparing newcomers for self-empowerment. We also take great pride in connecting them with legal and immigration services, which is very beneficial because it builds their confidence, self-esteem, and motives them to do better for themselves and their families. Sometimes all it takes is a little help for someone to do great things with their life. That is what empowerment is all about.

8. Can you briefly explain your project and what changes you are hoping to see over the next few years? What do you hope communities across the country will learn from the National Immigrant Empowerment Project (NIEP), your project specifically?

Our goal is to guide immigrants in our community with information, resources, education, and projects that will empower them while building confidence to do things on their own in future engagements. We want to continue offering workshops and classes that support the community to overcome barriers and obstacles. We experience language barriers in our community, so we have arranged ESL classes, which will encourage community members to become active in the community. When immigrants learn English, it empowers them to communicate with a wider group of people. Therefore, they can become fully independent and not rely on interpreters or not speak up. Thus making connections with the receiving community and improving their personal and professional lives.

Over the next few years, we hope to see that the immigrant community becomes self-sufficient and empowered, to create a better future for themselves and their families.