The 19th annual Solas Prize event will return later this month.

The Solas Award is the Welcome Center’s annual fundraising event and serves to highlight the contributions of immigrants to the region.

The word ‘solas’ is the Irish translation of ‘light’, a nod to Anne O’Callaghan, the Irish physiotherapist who emigrated to the United States in 1970 and went on to found the Welcome Center in 2003.

After taking place virtually last year, Peter Gonzales, President and CEO of the Visitor Center, said he was very excited to bring the event back in person again this year.

“What’s quite exciting and unique about our evolution of the Solas Awards this year is that we’re spotlighting the participants of the Welcome Center programs,” Gonzales said.

This year, three organizations will be honored for their work addressing important issues and making immigrant voices heard throughout the Philadelphia area throughout the pandemic.

One such organization is I Belong Philly.

Comprised of graduates from the Immigrant Leadership Institute and the Welcoming Center’s International Professionals Program – two programs designed to prepare immigrants with the skills, knowledge, and tools needed to succeed in American civic life, as well as the workforce American work, respectively – the group decided to stay connected after graduating to create opportunities for more immigrants to the region.

“They wanted to continue doing the work that they had learned to do in the programming that we were offering,” Gonzales said.

I Belong Philly is made up of graduates of the Immigrant Leadership Institute and the Welcoming Center’s International Professionals Program. Photo courtesy of I Belong Philly.

The volunteer group’s mission is to facilitate a space to create dialogue, build relationships, network, and promote and enjoy culture, all with the goal of making Philadelphia a better and more welcoming city for its immigrants.

“It kind of demonstrates the impact and that the drop-in center can have that ripple effect, where we may not be able to do all the things that we would like to do, but the people who have benefited from it. somehow participated in the programs, developed their own vision of the impact they could have beyond the drop-in center,” Gonzales added.

The second organization is Let’s Talk Philly Conversation Circles.

Co-founded in 2020 by Karen Cervera Noriega from Mexico and Yushan Chou from Taiwan, the organization was formed right after the onset of the pandemic to serve as an extension of the Visitor Center’s intercultural wellness program.

Comprised of immigrants and refugees from diverse countries and cultures, the organization’s goal is to improve community well-being and overcome barriers to social and economic integration through learning about language and leadership skills.

Let's Talk Philly Conversation Circles aims to improve community well-being and help immigrants overcome barriers to social and economic integration.  Photo courtesy of Let's Talk Philly Conversation Circles.
Let’s Talk Philly Conversation Circles aims to improve community well-being and help immigrants overcome barriers to social and economic integration. Photo courtesy of Let’s Talk Philly Conversation Circles.

“They’re a great example,” Gonzales said, “of women who would never have met in other circumstances… [They] developed a very close friendship and bond as participants in the drop-in center program.

“And they decided to keep doing the work after they graduate, to bring other immigrants together in an online format, to keep practicing and improving their English, but [also] having conversations about specific topics that helped people recognize that they are not alone,” Gonzales added.

The third organization is the Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos en Filadelfia (Mexican Business Owners Association of Philadelphia).

As the pandemic has affected so many immigrant-owned businesses, many have been unable to access relief funds, primarily because they were unaware of the process for applying for funds or grants.

The Mexican Business Owners Association of Philadelphia was formed after a group of local Mexican business owners found they were experiencing many of the same challenges, and with a lack of business associations specially designed to meet common concerns, they decided to create their own.

The group then organized a GoFundMe campaign in 2021 and became a key contributor in promoting the cultural and economic contributions that Latino merchants make to the city.

The Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos en Filadelfia aims to promote the cultural and economic contributions that Latino merchants make to the city.  Photo courtesy of Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos en Filadelfia.
The Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos en Filadelfia aims to promote the cultural and economic contributions that Latino merchants make to the city. Photo courtesy of Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos en Filadelfia.

“We helped them with a number of things around tech support, and eventually a lot of them went through our sales training program as well,” Gonzales said. “But this group continues to grow.”

These organizations are only a small piece of the overall puzzle of immigrants’ contribution to Philadelphia and the nation.

Gonzales thanks all three groups for their valuable work over the past two years.

“All three [the organizations] have been very, very active during the pandemic to support other immigrants, and they are doing it without much fanfare,” he said.

Gonzales continued, “It’s not the traditional groups…or individuals who might get recognition for their work, but they do some of the hardest and most challenging work of making sure people are included. – those who have been left behind in accessing economic opportunity, access to essential health and welfare services, access to learning – and recognizing that you don’t have to depend on other institutions, that you have strengths within your own community and among yourselves, and that when you come together, you actually have a lot of power in that collective.

As the organization’s annual fundraiser, or as Gonzales calls it, “friends raising event,” this year’s Solas Prize will also see a new $50,000 challenge, as the board chair Hao-Li Tai Loh and her husband Evan Loh have pledged $50,000 in sponsorship and consideration for all new sponsorships, donations and raises from last year’s event.

“It helps increase donations from many donors,” Gonzales noted. “Honestly, it was a big boost. We see a lot of energy around this game.

The 2022 Solas Prize will take place on Wednesday, April 27, 2022 at the Cherry Street Pier from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The idea is to create a “block party” type atmosphere, which will include a large event space, indoor and outdoor activities, food trucks, interactive exhibits, music, networking opportunities and much more.

As this is the 19th annual event, Gonzales noted that this year’s festivities will be “a step towards next year’s grand celebration.”

To purchase a ticket for the 2022 Solas Prize or learn more about the annual celebration, click here.