Welcoming Memories is Here!


First Person American and Active Voice in Partnership with Shelbyville Multimedia Present Welcoming Stories—Personal Narratives from Immigrants About People Who Welcomed Them And Changed Their Lives Forever

NEW YORK, NY, May 20, 2011—First Person American and Active Voice, in partnership with Shelbyville Multimedia, present Welcoming Stories, the series of five pilot episodes featuring immigrants telling their story of a person who helped them when they first came to America. Welcoming Stories aims to encourage Americans to become more welcoming, and to inspire other immigrants to share their own story about someone who made a big difference in their lives when they first arrived.

The pilot episodes, directed and produced by Irina Lee, are available to view online. This series of five pilot episodes was developed alongside a documentary, called Welcome to Shelbyville, which will premiere nationwide on PBS on May 24, 2011 at 10:00 PM EST (please check local listings.) After watching the Welcoming Stories series, viewers can submit their own videos, photos and written stories to adriana@activevoice.net. For videos submissions, viewers can upload their story to a personal YouTube or Vimeo account, name the file “Welcoming Stories – [Your First Name] in [Location],” and email the URL to adriana@activevoice.net. Approved videos will be embedded and shared on the Welcoming Stories blog and social media.

Welcoming Stories is a way to spark public interest and engage the community in something that is traditionally taken for granted,” said Irina Lee, founder of First Person American, “I want people to walk in the storytellers’ shoes, and experience a small epiphany about how one individual can make a huge difference in another’s life. These pilot episodes are especially important in a city like New York, where so much of its energy is fueled by cultural diversity and immigrant communities,” she said.

These stories bring together small acts of kindness, big-hearted moments, and simple, life-changing connections through five unique story-tellers:

Nika shares her story of coming to America from Warsaw, Poland in 1989. Nika remembers how she felt in an American classroom before she spoke English and how her ESL teacher who helped her in the first months had a lasting influence on her life to this day.

Welcoming Stories: “Leila” from Active Voice on Vimeo.

Leila talks about leaving Kenya as a teenager. At 17 Leila didn’t know exactly what she wanted, but she knew it wasn’t an arranged marriage in her native Kenya. Now a successful business owner, Leila remembers her ex-husband’s mother, who gave her the tools to build and realize her own American dream.

David learned everything about the US from watching “The Jetsons” during his childhood in Iran. When his uncle summoned him to Chicago, he found that some Americans really do live “in the sky.” David shares how his uncle helped him in his early days in America and expresses the gratitude he feels towards his uncle’s generosity.

Welcoming Stories: “Mona” from Active Voice on Vimeo.

Mona is a first-generation Indian-American born and raised in California. She shares her parents’ Welcoming Story of coming to the United States from Calcutta, India, in 1971. Her father’s best friend, Bishash, picked them up from the airport and made himself their new tour guide. Bishash’s enthusiasm and adventurous spirit encouraged Mona’s parents to discover a powerful bond that would help embrace their new American world.

Welcoming Stories: “Ilona” from Active Voice on Vimeo.

Ilona came alone to the United States from St. Petersburg, Russia at age 18. She talks about Yvette, a college friend who took a special interest in her and has since become a lifelong friend and a “sister”. Ilona doesn’t know if she would have survived here for as long without her friend’s good soul.

“While we were developing Shelbyville Multimedia, I started asking friends and colleagues: ‘Who welcomed you?’” said Ellen Schneider, executive director of Active Voice and executive producer of Welcoming Stories, “I got an earful. It made me realize that even simple acts of ‘welcoming’ can be life-changing, both for the newcomer and the ‘welcomer.’ We don’t talk about that very much, but we should. Welcoming Stories is one small way to get the ball rolling,” she added.

For more information and to view or share your own Welcoming Story, please visit http://www.shelbyvillemultimedia.org/get-involved/welcoming-stories/

About Welcoming Stories
Welcoming Stories is produced by First Person American, and executive produced by Active Voice. Welcoming Stories is a series of episodes that tell the stories of immigrants whose lives were transformed by a simple act of welcoming. We hope to bring together these small acts of kindness, big-hearted moments and simple but life-changing connections and offer them back to you. Irina Lee directed and produced the Welcoming Stories pilot episodes. For more information, please visit http://www.firstpersonamerican.org/stories_welcoming.html or http://www.shelbyvillemultimedia.org/get-involved/welcoming-stories/

About First Person American
First Person American focuses on stories of modern immigrants in the US, and explores what it means to be American through the lens of the immigrant in an expressive, personal and narrative style. First Person American aims to change the public’s perception of immigrants and to interject a new voice through deep and poignant portraits of people who immigrated to America. The mission of First Person American is to have a transformative effect on individual immigrant and non-immigrant lives and communities. First Person American is a recipient of the 2010 Sappi Ideas That Matter Grant and the 2011 Design Ignites Change Grant. For more information, please visit www.firstpersonamerican.org and follow on Twitter @FPAmerican.

About “Welcome to Shelbyville”
“Welcome to Shelbyville” is a new documentary about how residents in a small Tennessee town have worked to understand, challenge, and accept new immigrants in their community. Set against the backdrop of a shaky economy during the 2008 Presidential election, “Welcome to Shelbyville” takes an intimate look at a southern town as its residents – comprised of Whites, African-Americans, Latinos and Somalis – grapple with their beliefs, their histories and their evolving ways of life. For more information, please visit http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/welcome-to-shelbyville/

About Shelbyville Multimedia
Shelbyville Multimedia introduces you to the cast of “Welcome to Shelbyville”, a handful of straight-talking people in rural Tennessee who are taking immigration into their own hands – by welcoming newcomers. Developed by Active Voice, Shelbyville Multimedia is a platform to promote community-building and harmony between native-born Americans, immigrants and refugees nationwide. www.ShelbyvilleMultimedia.org and http://www.facebook.com/ShelbyvilleMultimedia

About Active Voice
Active Voice uses film, television and multimedia to spark social change from grassroots to grass tops. For more information, please visit www.activevoice.net and follow on Twitter @active_voice.

Media Contacts:
Welcoming Stories: Adriana Dakin, 707.272.0066, adriana@activevoice.net
First Person American: Irina Lee, 347.443.8745, irina@firstpersonamerican.org
Active Voice: Ellen Schneider, 415.487.2000, ellen@activevoice.net

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