Luz Orozco has two families: the one she immigrated for, and the one that helped her become a citizen.
Orozco, who is originally from Medellin, Colombia, came to Boston 14 years ago with her husband and two young daughters. Onetime business owners, Orozco and her husband were harassed and extorted by criminals in Colombia to the point where they feared for their safety. They fled the country for a better life for their daughters, and “everything we wanted for them came true,” Orozco said — but more than a decade later, her English was still limited and she was not yet a citizen.
The Bridge Program changed that. In partnership with the Institute of Politics (IOP), the program connects student tutors with Harvard employees looking to learn English, build career skills, prepare for college courses, or obtain citizenship. For Orozco, who became a citizen last year, the program was also a huge confidence boost. Once unsure of even how to order a coffee in English, she now chats easily with customers at the Harvard Medical School café where she works.
On Wednesday, when Orozco stood to speak at a dinner celebrating the program’s new U.S. citizens, her tutors and fellow students were there to cheer for her, bouquets in hand.
“The program is like a family,” she said. “They gave me this opportunity, and my life has changed 100 percent.”
Orozco was one of 16 honorees at the annual citizenship dinner. The group received congratulations from Harvard President Larry Bacow, IOP Director Mark Gearan, program staff, and several of the 64 undergraduates who volunteer as tutors.
Like Orozco, tutor Nick Wyville spoke about the program’s familial atmosphere. For Wyville, his co-tutor Renae Ford, and their “tutee,” Anne Odera, a friendship “evolved beyond the walls of Harvard.”
Wyville and Ford are both juniors, and have worked with Odera since they were first-year students. This month, she became a U.S. citizen.
“I became a real citizen through them, learning more about the United States than just the answers to questions for the exam,” said Odera, who worked at Harvard Alumni Affairs until earlier this year. “They molded themselves to what I needed.”
Ford said she has loved getting to know Odera — and that Odera’s many questions about the U.S. have “challenged our knowledge of American history,” leading to discussions not just about what the laws are, but why they exist.