Open Door Immigration Services is a new nonprofit ministry of Highrock Northshore, a Covenant congregation in Salem, Massachusetts. With a grant from Love Mercy Do Justice, the 501(c)3 held its grand opening in September. We asked executive director Abby Conger about their work.
What services do you provide?
We are a free legal clinic. We offer citizenship classes for people who are already on the path to citizenship, and we advocate for immigrants by working with people on their paperwork for green cards or helping them renew their current status.
We also help people who have been the victims of crimes or trafficking. If the situation is too complicated for us, we assist immigrants in finding help and figuring out what their options are. We have great volunteers, including a retired attorney who works pro bono for our clients.
How did ODIS begin?
A family in the church was going through the immigration process, and it was a long, difficult, and confusing journey. The church began to talk about what it would take to help others navigate their own immigration journey. Out of those conversations came the idea of providing legal services to immigrants.
What led you to work with the immigrant population?
In 2013–14, while working for a fair-trade organization in Lima, Peru, I realized the impact of living in a foreign culture. I needed help to understand the culture and what was going on around me. That experience showed me how vulnerable people are when they aren’t in their primary culture.
Attending Highrock Northshore for the past three years, I have listened to our pastor Aaron Engler faithfully teach about serving the whole church. I have been so impressed with the Covenant Church and its emphasis on social justice. We are called to care for the most vulnerable and this certainly includes immigrants. This fact is foundational to my faith. When I finished seminary last spring, I realized this is a place where my faith can be put into action.
What preparation did you need to do to work with immigrants?
We needed approval by the Department of Justice to become accredited representatives. Some other volunteers and I took the forty-hour training course to get that accreditation, which we received in June. We also had to file as a separate 501(c)3 from the church.
What countries do your clientele come from?
In Salem we have mostly Spanish-speaking immigrants, primarily from Central America. But we also have clients from Pakistan, Uganda, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, and India.
What’s next for you and ODIS?
I finished my MDiv at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary last spring, and I am excited to be on the path to ordination in the Covenant. The grant we received from the ECC, as well as other donations, helped get us going. We have a volunteer grant writer who is assisting us in finding other funds. And we continue to learn from other churches and organizations who are doing similar work.
To learn more or to donate to ODIS, go to odisma.org.