Annual Events

Freeze for Food

For the last 41 years the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Wisconsin – Madison has held a mid-winter run, including a competitive 10K race, a shorter 5K run, and a 1K family fun run. For the last six years, RPCV has graciously donated all profits from the run to Open Doors. In March 2022, these incredible organizers, volunteers, and 360 runners broke all previous Freeze for Food fundraising records when they raised over $14,500 for Open Doors.

Here’s the blog entry for the 2022 Freeze for Food on March 5. While RPCV still takes the lead role in planning and executing the race, for the last couple of years, Open Doors has taken on a greater co-host role in planning, gathering volunteers, and supporting the race. If you’re a runner or otherwise are looking for a fun way to support Open Doors, please keep an eye out for this run every year. And thanks again to RPCV!

Community Picnic

Every summer (except during COVID in 2020 and 2021), Open Doors has sponsored a Community Picnic in the shelter at Olin Park on the beautiful shores of Lake Monona.

In 2022, the festivities are scheduled for Sunday, June 26 at 12 pm. We hope to see you there. 

The picnic is strictly a social occasion and an opportunity for both former refugees and longer-term residents to come together to mingle, talk, eat, play, and get to know one another. In the grandest of community traditions, it starts with noontime potluck, and the cultural mix of food is heavenly. People chat and eat over heaping plates at the numerous tables inside or out on the grass outside, weather allowing. As the food settles, the entertainment begins, usually a mix of music and dance inside. Meanwhile the kids spill outside onto the grass or into the kids’ tent to blend and burn off their energy with a host of kids’ games and activities. By 4:00 or so the kids are worn out, the adults are sated, and the party winds down.

The event is free and open to all, it’s alcohol free, and a wide invitational net is cast. Usually a few hundred folks of various ethnicities and backgrounds attend, many with their kids. It’s a wonderful event, and we hope you will put it on your calendar. Read more about the 2022 event here.

Naturalization Ceremony

Beginning in 2017, each September Open Doors has hosted a naturalization, or citizenship, ceremony in conjunction with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. USCIS had been holding them regularly in Milwaukee and elsewhere, of course, but there hadn’t been one in Madison for over a decade until USCIS officials agreed to conduct one here. For the last three years we’ve held them in the State Capital building or the Federal Courthouse, and normally they’re an officious, judicial, and brief process. However, we’ve been allowed to spice them up, and we do, with stirring and emotional oratories from the best of our community leaders (sometimes former immigrants themselves), exquisite music performed by heralded vocalists and instrumentalists, and of course in keeping with Open Doors traditions, once the official ceremony is finished, a sumptuous repast catered by our newcomers.

Usually there are about forty or so celebrants from around the state and elsewhere, formerly immigrants, refugees and asylees, some of whom we’ve helped along the way – folks who worked for years to stand in that courtroom and take that oath and finally and proudly become citizens. And yes, when the national anthem is played and sung, it brings tears to more than a few eyes. At the most recent ceremony, the presiding judge said that he loves to conduct these events because it’s the only occasion in his courtroom when everyone leaves happy!

Because this is such a stirring and moving experience, we so wish that it could be open to the public, but because of the limited venue spaces, access is normally restricted to the celebrants, their families, officials, and Open Doors volunteers (and standing room only at that). It’s an event not to miss if you have the opportunity, and one way to possibly participate is to become a volunteer on the Open Doors Events team.


We have so much to be grateful for! Every fall Open Doors invites Madison newcomers (former refugees) to join us in a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to celebrate our community and give thanks for the abundance in our lives. Usually on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, over a hundred former refugees join a cadre of Open Doors volunteers at Christ Presbyterian Church for a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixin’s, complemented with a host of not-so-traditional sweet and savory delights prepared by our new neighbors. For the last few years, Lutheran Social Services (until recently a local refugee resettlement agency) has provided a gaggle of Halal turkeys, which volunteer chef Jeff Doyle-Horney brined and cooked (wow!).

This is a special event for our new neighbors, and is not open to the general public except for those who volunteer for it. Though Open Doors’ annual Thanksgiving celebration could not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions, we look forward to a triumphant return this fall! Many thanks to Jene-Rene Watchou and the staff at CPC for providing the wonderful facility, and to the many Open Doors volunteers who help make it happen.