Based in Seattle, Sara McDermott was recently appointed as the national coordinator for the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers (CIIC).
Tell us about your Irish heritage.
“My mother is from Butte, Montana. Her grandparents came from Co. Wicklow and Co. Donegal. Being Irish American on my mother’s side of the family was not only something that was meaningful and treasured; it was also an identity to be very proud of.
“When I studied abroad in Ireland in 2003/04, my parents and I made our way to Donegal for the first time to visit distant relatives. Those relatives remembered meeting my grandparents in the 1970s. It was a very endearing moment, particularly as an American who can often have many cultural identities (my father has Scottish and German ancestry also). I really felt at home and rooted in this place.”
Where do you live?
“I’m currently living in the Seattle area with my Irish husband, a Waterford man! I play the fiddle and we made a point to join in local Irish trad sessions as soon as we arrived to the area. Irish music in particular has opened doors for me and introduced me to some incredible people along the way.”
Tell us about your previous work with non-profits.
“Working in non-profits is very powerful work. It’s remarkable to witness the collective work that people do because they are passionate about an issue and really believe in it. In my last role I worked at Youth Work Ireland in Galway and spent a lot of time collaborating with communities, advocating, and providing necessary individual and group support.
“All of my experiences in non-profits have taught me how important it is for people to have a sense of community – to feel empowered, to be supported, to give back and help others. It is humbling to witness this unfold as people really grow and gain a sense of confidence.”
What is your new role with the CIIC?
“I’m delighted to be a part of such a fantastic, multifaceted organization. My role includes support and coordination to the regionally diverse board of directors, collaboration with national network member centers, overseeing all media and communication avenues, record and account maintenance, advocacy -- basically a little bit of everything!
“My main focus will continually support the mission of the CIIC, which represents immigrant organizations and provides support and assistance to various Irish Immigration centers around the country.”
How many Irish immigration centers are there in the U.S., and what is the most sought after service they provide?
“There are currently 11 Irish immigration and pastoral centers across the U.S., all based in significant Irish hubs but all serving immigrants in many states. I would say that the support services are commonly used are in a variety of capacities which include immigrant visa or citizenship information, social service advice and referral, senior community support, pastoral care, J-1 visa information, counseling and much more.
“Our member centers provide very comprehensive front line services to the Irish and Irish American communities. I encourage anyone who has a center in their city to support them in whatever way they can.”