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the NaturalizeCharlotte blog

The Story Behind Naturalize Charlotte

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

Naturalize Charlotte was created by Foster and William Harris, two local high school students who learned about the naturalization process from their Spanish teacher.

How it all began...

Foster and William Harris are twin brothers and the co-founders of Naturalize Charlotte. They first learned about the naturalization process from Paty Prieto, a Spanish teacher at Charlotte Country Day School. Foster was in Ms. Prieto's Spanish class as a sophomore and remembers the day she came into class following her naturalization ceremony. Ms. Prieto shared with the class what citizenship meant to her and what the naturalization process included.

Residents applying for citizenship face a daunting process that includes complex eligibility requirements, labyrinthine paperwork, assessments of civics and English, and a USCIS interview that can be intimidating. After Ms. Prieto shared the complexities of the process with Foster and William, describing her journey to citizenship, the brothers sought to learn more about the process and ways they could get involved.

Foster and William Harris pictured with Paty Prieto

An idea was born...

Through meetings at City Hall, Foster and William learned about a desire for more interconnectivity and collaboration around citizenship within Charlotte’s internationally-focused nonprofit community, and pitched the idea of a website to Emily Yaffe, the City of Charlotte’s Immigrant Integration Specialist. The brothers began developing Naturalize Charlotte as sophomores in high school, supported by Charlotte Country Day School's Director of International Studies, David Lynn. Through meetings with leaders in government, the Executive Directors of over a dozen Charlotte nonprofits, and feedback from community members, the Harris brothers developed a vision for a website that could help fill several gaps in Charlotte's international community.

Foster and William Harris reviewing the mobile version of the site with Daniel Knutson of USCIS

From idea to reality...

With the collaboration of all organizations in the Naturalize Charlotte Group and the support of City Hall, the Naturalize Charlotte website became a reality after two-and-a-half years of development, design, and testing by the Harris brothers. The website launched in October 2019 at the Naturalize Charlotte Website Launch Event. Following the launch, Foster and William continued to adapt the site to meet community needs.

Naturalize Charlotte Website Launch Event on October 23rd, 2019

Improvements from volunteers...

Working alongside the Harris brothers, a team of student translators got involved to ensure the Naturalize Charlotte website would be accessible to a broad range of language speakers seeking citizenship. This team of student translators included Evan Biller, Laura Saavedra, and Lucia Abou Tayeh—all students at Charlotte Country Day School. Thanks to the countless hours these volunteers spent manually translating each section of the website, the Naturalize Charlotte website is able to be offered in a wide array of languages. 

Translators (listed left to right): Evan Biller, Laura Saavedra, and Lucia Abou Tayeh

Naturalize Charlotte today...

Today, the Naturalize Charlotte website serves as a resource for those seeking citizenship, but also as a resource for current citizens seeking information about the naturalization process and related volunteering opportunities. The Naturalize Charlotte Group consists of nonprofit and government organizations who meet regularly to coordinate naturalization assistance efforts. Both the Naturalize Charlotte website and the Naturalize Charlotte Group serve as unifying forces in the community by establishing coordination among nonprofits and connecting volunteers and clients to organizations. The Harris brothers led an effort beginning in January 2020 to transition the website into the oversight of the City of Charlotte. The Office of Equity, Mobility, and Immigrant Integration currently oversees the Naturalize Charlotte project since it was transferred into the City's hands.

Foster and William Harris presenting at a Naturalize Charlotte Group committee meeting

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