International Institute of Minnesota Honors McCollum for Service to New Americans

Congresswoman Betty McCollum received the International Institute of Minnesota's Olga Zoltai Award for Service to New Americans on Sunday, March 5, 2017 at the Institute's International Women's Day Tea. The award, which honors distinguished service to New Americans, memorializes the life and work of Olga Zoltai. Congresswoman McCollum delivered the following remarks after receiving the award:

Thank you for this very, very special award, Kitty (Kitty Gogins, International Institute of Minnesota Board President and daughter of Olga Zoltai).

I am humbled to receive this award honoring the legacy of your mother and her life’s work. Thank you, Kitty.

I don’t know what it feels like to be a refugee.  I do not know the fear, the pain, the loss, the heartache of losing one’s country, community, and everything familiar.

What I do know, what I feel in my heart and my soul, is that I want the United States of America to be a country that welcomes refugees with open arms. I want this country to be a land of peace, opportunity, and healing for all who seek refuge here.

Olga Zoltai was a refugee from Hungary.  The experience of fleeing her country and resettling in the United States was part of her life experience.  And, she found a home in the United States – here in Minnesota.  And, here at the International Institute of Minnesota (IIM).

Olga dedicated her life to welcoming refugees. She helped establish the foundation that has made IIM an organization that radiates hope, opportunity, and new beginnings.

The fact that Olga and the staff here at IIM have welcomed more than 25,000 refugees to Minnesota over the years is amazing.

Kitty, your mother helped shape the wonderful, dynamic, vibrant, diverse character of Minnesota and we are all better for it.

Over the years I have the opportunity to work with Jane (Jane Gruapman, IIM Executive Director) and her excellent staff here at IIM. Whether it is ESL classes or job training,

life skills or nursing assistant courses, IIM is transforming lives, strengthening our community, and contributing to a more peaceful world.

Jane – thank you for all you and your team do!  Your work and impact is profound and I am deeply appreciative of your work.

Today, we gather here to commemorate the United Nation International Women’s Day by honoring the extraordinary women and girls here in this country and around the world.  As your Member of Congress, I am 100% committed to fight for women’s rights at home and abroad. And, I am 100% committed to fight for human rights and the rights of refugees – here in the United States and around the world.

Throughout my career in Congress I have made the rights of women and girls a priority.

If we want a more peaceful, prosperous world, a world where children are healthy and families are strong, then let us invest in women and girls.
 

The United States is the wealthiest nation on Earth.  We must be investing in women and girls, not cutting funding and assistance that saves lives, protects the vulnerable and builds better futures.

Empowering women and girls is not controversial, it is essential. It means giving every girl the opportunity she deserves – the right – to go to school and receive an education.

It means eliminating discrimination, exploitation and violence against women and girls – whether it be trafficking, forced marriage of girls, or pay discrimination right here in the United States.

Empowering women means access to employment, healthcare, and safe childcare. And, empowering women means asking a room full of women to think about standing up and be leaders – maybe running for elected office one day –  for school board, city council, mayor, the state legislature, or the even the U.S. Congress.

I am sure that each of us here today is very concerned about new policies that are coming out of this White House that impact refugees.  In my view, these policies are a betrayal of America’s values and the core beliefs that make this a great country.

We must resist these close minded and harmful policies.  We must resist in Congress, in the courts, and in our communities.  But it is also critical to continue to be welcoming, caring and embracing of all New Americans.  It is more important than ever.

There is amazing strength and perseverance in each and every refugee story.  The millions women, men and children who have found their way to America have made this country better.  Their courage must now be our courage as we resist isolationism, bigotry, and the scapegoating of good people seeking freedom and a new life in America.

Olga Zoltai was a refugee who dedicated her life to welcoming refugees.  Olga’s work is now our work and must continue this important work the same passion and commitment.

Thank you for this very special award – I will treasure it. And, I will carry Olga in my heart as we fight to keep America a country that welcomes refugees and strives to offer hope, opportunity and freedom to all people.

Thank you, Kitty.  Thank you, Jane. And, thank you to everyone here today.