In October 2004, Gerda Klein was asked by educator Marney Murphy to speak at a naturalization ceremony that was held at Three Rivers Middle School in Cleves, Ohio. Ohio Southern District Court Judge Carl B. Rubin, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, ordered this first ceremony that was held on the campus of Three Rivers Middle School in 1986. Gerda Klein was touched by the great pride the students exuded as they witnessed immigrants taking the “Oath of Allegiance” to become citizens of the United States of America. She envisioned students across the country having the opportunity to participate in planning and then witnessing this most patriotic and emotional event.
Back home in Arizona, Gerda shared her experience with her granddaughter, Alysa Ullman, and with her friend, Rita Schaefer, who was then President of McDougal-Littell, a publisher of educational materials for grades 6 to 12. After learning that Gerda and Alysa were invited to attend a special naturalization ceremony at The White House, Rita encouraged Alysa to author a civics-based curriculum using the naturalization process, including the ceremony, as the foundation. The focus of the curriculum was to educate middle and high school students about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, the naturalization process and the importance of “giving back” through community service. In February 2008, The Path to Citizenship was published. Several months later, in August 2008, Gerda’s “American Dream” became a reality when Citizenship Counts was born. By founding Citizenship Counts, which helps students better understand and value their American citizenship, Gerda has carried out her lifelong goal of “giving back” to the United States. In October 2011 Citizenship Counts released its revised educational materials.
On March 23, 2009, the inaugural naturalization ceremony under the stewardship of Citizenship Counts was held at the Phoenix Convention Center. Fifty new citizens from twenty-six countries took “The Oath of Allegiance,” which was administered by Former Supreme Court Justice and Advisory Board Member, Sandra Day O’Connor. More than one hundred students witnessed this special event as Gerda Klein delivered an emotional speech on achieving “The American Dream.”
Since August 2008, Citizenship Counts has provided support for both middle and high schools in Arizona as they complete the curriculum and support government agencies in coordinating a naturalization ceremony. During the 2010-11 school year, Citizenship Counts continued to expand its efforts in Arizona and introduced the program in several new communities, including Bloomington, Minnesota, at a special ceremony at the Mall of America; Buffalo, New York; Omaha, Nebraska; Denver, Colorado; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Cincinnati, Ohio.