Philly Woman Gets Country's 2nd Highest Civilian Honor

Patience Lehrman's passion earned her the Presidential Citizens Medal

By Karen Araiza
|  Sunday, Feb 17, 2013  |  Updated 6:30 AM EDT
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Philadelphian Patience Lehrman was given the Citizens Medal for her work with immigrants through Project SHINE. The Citizens Medal is the highest honor a civilian can receive.

NBC10 Philadelphia

Philadelphian Patience Lehrman was given the Citizens Medal for her work with immigrants through Project SHINE. The Citizens Medal is the highest honor a civilian can receive.

A Philadelphia woman now holds the second-highest honor a civilian can receive in our country – the Presidential Citizens Medal.

Patience Lehrman is passionate about fixing America’s immigration system.

“Immigrant integration is the rising tide that lifts all boats,” she says in a video explaining her point of view, on the website for the White House.

An immigrant herself, from Cameroon, Lehrman runs a national program out of Temple University called Project SHINE (Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders). It matches college students with older immigrants, who often have language barrier issues. Those issues can create obstacles as emotional as talking to their own grandchildren and as necessary as accessing the medical care they need.

“There’s this whole stigma, of the elderly population, that they can’t learn as well; they won’t remember things as well, which I found to be untrue,” one of the SHINE students recalls in a video that showcases local students helping older immigrants in Philadelphia's Chinatown neighborhood.

The college students also help immigrants work toward citizenship through naturalization.

“I think that getting citizenship is really pretty-much getting your own voice. . .it’s a sense of identity,” another SHINE student says.

Lehrman believes that helping immigrants does not come at the expense of hurting American-born citizens. One of the benefits of better integration into their new communities, she says, is that it can help close a gap in the workforce created by America’s aging job population.

“And immigrants like myself are willing to do everything possible to participate fully in shaping the future of this country by engaging with America-born citizens and other immigrants in defining what America means for all its citizens.”

This year the Citizens Medal was given to people who have made a significant impact on their communities, but who may not have received national attention.

In a White House reception today, President Barack Obama talked about how easy it is not to get involved, but said that Lehrman and other award recipients have "taken communities to a whole new level,” with their committments.

Lehrman is one of 18 recipients chosen from more than 6,000 nominations.

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