Welcoming accountability in Nashua

In October 2022, the City of Nashua, New Hampshire became the first Certified Welcoming city in the Granite State and among the first in the New England region. In this blog, Kathleen Palmer, Communications & Special Projects Coordinator and Cecilia Ulibarri, former Constituent Services & Cultural Affairs Coordinator for the City of Nashua, share their experiences leading the Certified Welcoming process.

The first steps

In 2016, the mayor of Nashua, Jim Donchess, passed a welcoming city resolution. By 2018, the mayor’s office had created a new staff position for constituent services and cultural affairs, which was filled by Cecilia Ulibarri.

When Cecilia began the work, she learned about Welcoming America and the Certified Welcoming program. Although Nashua is one of four cities in New Hampshire to have a welcoming resolution, she realized that there was nothing in place to hold the city accountable to the resolutions proposed. She proposed joining the Certified Welcoming program to Mayor Donchess, which was then approved.

A changing Nashua

Nashua is the most diverse city in the state, as well as the second largest. In the 1800s, immigrants from Greece, Canada, Lithuania, and Poland helped the city establish a thriving mill industry. More recently, the extensive Hispanic, Asian, and African communities — who represent dozens of countries — as well as the Indian community became more visible members of Nashua’s fabric.

Just as the city was grappling with these changes, the pandemic brought new challenges and opportunities. The city was just beginning to undertake the process of becoming Certified Welcoming when the pandemic hit. That led to a pause in the certification work as the city shifted gears to provide services and assist residents during a time of uncertainty.

But with these shifts came opportunities. Through the pandemic, the Certified Welcoming program helped identify gaps in the city’s services, particularly around language access. “We upgraded our language line translation service so city employees could immediately get live assistance with a translator when they are helping a non-English speaker,” said Kathleen and Cecilia.

The future is welcoming

By becoming Certified Welcoming, the city hopes it signals to newcomers and surrounding communities that Nashua takes welcoming seriously and hopefully inspires others to follow suit.

“We are very pleased to lead the way as the only city in New Hampshire currently with this designation, and one of only two cities in New England — hat tip to our friends in Portland, Maine!” said Kathleen and Cecilia.

For aspiring Certified Welcoming cities, Kathleen and Cecilia recommend attending the Welcoming Interactive, the annual conference hosted by Welcoming America. “The resources, networking and knowledge that it provides will help you tremendously through the process,” they said.

As Certified Welcoming designations only last three years, the city is committed to working toward retaining the designation. This includes plans to reach a broader range of different communities and cultures in the city, and reinforce relationships with the many nonprofits that work with refugees and immigrants and support their new lives in Nashua.