Longtime helper to receive honor named after her late friend

By Chicago 4 Min Read

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Pat Nolan, shown Friday in front of the Urbana Free Library, will receive the Claire Szoke Distinguished Service Award at the C-U Immigration Forum’s 10th annual Immigrant Welcome Awards, set for Saturday.

Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

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Honor roll During a Saturday ceremony at the Urbana Free Library, the C-U Immigration Forum will hand out the 10th edition of its Immigrant Welcome Awards. Between now and then, we’ll introduce you to the six winners:

Student Leadership Award: Flor Quiroz

Business Leadership Award: Shawarma Joint

Community Impact Award: The Refugee Center

Immigrant Leadership Award: Efrain F. Gaspar

Emergent Leader Award: Citlaly Y. Stanton

Claire Szoke Distinguished Service Award: Pat Nolan

URBANA — It took some convincing to get Pat Nolan to accept her Immigrant Welcome Award.

Ricardo Diaz, one of the board members of the C-U Immigration Forum, called her to offer congratulations on being chosen.

“I said, ‘No!’” Nolan said. “Because there are so many other people who need to be nominated and chosen.”

She said the attention has made her feel like a celebrity, but she’d rather have the focus put on the local immigrant community, which she has been working to serve since the early 1990s.

The specific award Nolan will receive at Saturday’s ceremony is the Claire Szoke Distinguished Service Award — her personal friendship with the late Szoke helped Diaz convince her to accept the award.

“He said it was coming full circle, so he eventually convinced me that it was OK,” Nolan said.

Nolan traces her interest in working with the immigrant community to living with her mother in Japan for a time, as well as being a “military brat” moving around the world.

“I was always the new kid on the block,” Nolan said. “But I spoke English and I was White, so I came in with certain advantages.”

Since she started getting involved with helping the Champaign-Urbana immigrant community in the ‘90s, Nolan has worked with the Refugee Center, Immigration Services of Champaign-Urbana, the C-U Immigration Forum and her church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign.

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Pat Nolan in front of the Urbana Free Library on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023.

Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

The church was the first place Nolan began volunteering, helping refugees to find housing as well as things like furniture and kitchenware.

Nolan said greater awareness of immigration and the challenges immigrants face has been one of the biggest changes she has seen, and that more awareness is good for the community.

Through the years, her work expanded as she helped individuals and families with tasks like obtaining driver’s licenses, Social Security cards and bus passes or going through the process of registering kids for school.

“People don’t always know what they need to do,” Nolan said.

Nolan has seen different local organizations morph through the years, but she says that the way the groups are collaborating more and more over time has been an improvement.

For example, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District now houses multiple organizations focused on different necessities that immigrants may require assistance with, Nolan noted.

That allows them to share resources and specialize in different areas to help people more efficiently

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