CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — The City of Champaign is the only municipality in Illinois to be designated as a Certified Welcoming place, which recognizes areas committed to immigrant inclusion and belonging.

Welcoming America is the organization behind the recognition. Certified Welcoming is a formal designation given to cities and counties that promote immigrant inclusion and belonging through programs and policies. The program weighs local governments against the Welcoming Standard, analyzing civic, social, and economic inclusion for immigrants in their communities.

Champaign participated in the evaluation in 2022, and now, the city is one of only 20 municipalities in the country to receive the Certified Welcoming designation. They achieved a 2-star designation under Welcoming America’s new star system. In addition to honoring local inclusivity efforts, the certification builds a competitive advantage and provides opportunities for Champaign to share successful welcoming practices with others.

“The Champaign community has a long history of welcoming immigrants with open arms and helping them to settle into our wonderfully diverse city,” Mayor Deborah Frank Feinen said. “The City of Champaign embraces our newest residents and celebrates the different cultures and backgrounds that each brings to strengthen our community. I also want to recognize and thank all our residents and partner agencies who have helped make Champaign the incredibly diverse and welcoming community that so many of us choose to call home.”

“We are thrilled to recognize the City of Champaign in becoming a Certified Welcoming place, affirming its leadership in building policies and partnerships that enable all those making the city home — including people with immigrant and refugee backgrounds — to thrive and belong,” said Rachel Perić, Executive Director of Welcoming America. “As the first city in Illinois to receive the designation, and the 21st in the nation, we look forward to celebrating and supporting the community’s ongoing efforts to make the city a welcoming place for all.  We especially want to recognize the New American Welcome Center for its longstanding involvement as a member of Welcoming America and playing a pivotal role in the city’s Certified Welcoming designation.” 

From partnerships with community-based organizations like the New American Welcome Center, to helping establish immigrant-owned businesses through the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation, Champaign’s new recognition shines a spotlight on the city’s dedicated work with immigrant communities.

“The Certified Welcoming is an amazing accomplishment and shows how intentional we all are in making our community truly welcoming and inclusive,” said Akua Forkuo-Sekyere, Director of the New American Welcome Center. “This work is possible because of the countless hours that advocates, volunteers, supporters, partners, and advisors spend on services, community building, and implementation of the Welcoming Plan. Even though our community still has work to do, this is a time to celebrate and acknowledge the amazing and beautiful work we do to support immigrants in our community.”

In light of this achievement, the City of Champaign will be hosting a celebration on Nov. 7 from 6:00 pm. to 6:45 p.m. at the Champaign City Building (102 North Neil Street). The free and open event will feature cultural performances and refreshments. A Welcoming America representative will present the certification to the City following the event, during that evening’s City Council meeting.