Diocesan News

Volunteer offers citizenship classes at CSS

Story by Reagan Scott

LINCOLN (SNR) – Thanks to Phil Wolfe, 15 people have become United States citizens over the past five years.

A member of St. John the Apostle Parish in Lincoln and active member of the Knights of Columbus, Phil Wolfe continues to make an impact on the community, and is just getting started.

Wolfe taught ELL (English Language Learners) students for four years with Lincoln Public Schools and said he loved it from the get-go. It was this experience that inspired him to start teaching English to adults at Catholic Social Services in Lincoln.

In teaching English, Wolfe also realized the need for a class to learn the information and skills needed to become U.S. citizens. This is a lengthy process that can take six months to a year.

“It’s quite a waiting game,” Wolfe said.

The process includes passing a background check, completing an interview, and passing English and U.S. history exams, all of which take place in Omaha. After successful completion of these steps, applicants attend a naturalization ceremony to take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States and receive a Certificate of Naturalization, proof of United States citizenship.

Wolfe said that most of his students are Spanish-speakers. Students come from Honduras, Peru, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

“It’s fun to be able to speak with my students in Spanish,” Wolfe said. He received a minor in Spanish when he went to college at the University of Northern Iowa and enjoys getting to put what he learned into practice.

His students love him, and affectionately refer to him as “Felipe,” the Spanish variant of the name Philip.

As part of his curriculum Wolfe teaches his students answers to 100 U.S. history questions provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

In order to pass the history test, applicants need to be able to correctly answer six out of 10 questions from the list chosen by the USCIS officer giving the exam. They must also demonstrate that they can read and write English.

Wolfe noted that most American born citizens don’t know the answers to all of the questions on the test. He gave the 100-question test to his kids and found that they could only answer about 65 of the 100.

In order to help his students successfully pass their interview and English tests, Wolfe helps his students practice interview questions, small-talk skills, and interview techniques.

Within 15 minutes of taking their final exams, Wolfe will get a call or a text from his students, excited to tell him that they passed.

“They’ll say, ‘Felipe, it was just like what you told me!’” Wolfe said. “It’s very rewarding work.”

At no cost to those taking it, Wolfe teaches his class from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. every Thursday, and he’s always looking for new students.

Joking about the fact that he’s always putting himself out of work Wolfe said, “Once my students graduate, I rarely see them again.”

Just before Christmas two of his students passed their citizenship test.  He has two students in his class now, one from Honduras and one from Afghanistan. Wolfe invited interested individuals to start the class any time they want.

Wolfe said that his students just came to the United States looking for a better life, and he will continue to help those who need it for as long as he can. 

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