‘This makes a difference in your life’

By Morgan McGrath Chelsae Poelking has been teaching English as a second language for the past two years, and every Tuesday night, she can be found in an Akron Crossings classroom, laughing with students as they collectively crack some jokes.  “God made all people valuable,” she said. “Everyone is valuable in his eyes, no matter where you’re from, or what you’ve been through. That’s why we want to love them [refugees] and help them have the best chance they have.” Poelking first fell in love with volunteering during a trip down south to Clarkston, Georgia, just a 20-minute drive outside...

Why one volunteer loves teaching English as a Second Language

By Morgan McGrath Akron Crossings volunteer Jake George. Photo courtesy of Jake George. Jake George, one of the many volunteers at Akron Crossings, has graying hair, and a welcoming smile.  George, an Indian-American who has been living in the United States for “many” years, as he puts it, spends every Tuesday and Thursday teaching English as a second language, or ESL, to refugees from around the world. “I kept looking for opportunities to help out,” he said.  George worked in the rubber industry for 42 years, and following his retirement, he wanted to find ways to give back to the...

Overcoming barriers at Akron Crossings

By Morgan McGrath Akron Crossings is in North Hill, tucked among a long stretch of residential areas. Bena Paisley is the founder of this non-profit, community-centric organization, and her central goal is to help refugees adjust to the United States through the guidance of Christianity.  “I encourage them [refugees] to be patient with themselves, and that they really can do this, ‘cuz it’s overwhelming sometimes,” she said.  After speaking with local residents in North Hill, Paisley realized they all mentioned their need to overcome language barriers.  “I was a staff member at a church, and we started Crossings as a...

Home, job, transportation-and mindfulness

By Morgan McGrath "Do yourself a favor and do others a favor by being your best self,” said Edlyn McGarity Edlyn McGarity, a “Mindfulness Coach,” Ted Talk speaker, author, actress, and employee at Akron’s International Welcome Center. Photo courtesy of Edlyn McGarity.   A world traveler and Indian immigrant, McGarity is currently employed as the Community Coordinator for Akron’s International Welcome Center, or IWC.  Not only that, but she’s also a published author of a #1 bestselling Amazon book titled “Redefine Your Success Metrics.”  She once gave a TedTalk speech called “Taking Charge of Your Destiny,” and on top of...

Overcoming obstacles in refugee healthcare

By Alencia Lang Sujata Burgess commutes between the Akron and Cleveland locations of the International Community Health Center (ICHC). When asked what her responsibilities included, she said “everything” with a light laugh. As the director of operations, she is behind all of the administrative work for the ICHC, including overseeing safety procedures, ordering medical supplies, and hiring and training new staff. The job is full of problem solving. She said she never knows what she is going to walk into each day. ICHC located at E 370 Market St. Akron, OH. Photo by Alencia Lang. After earning a master’s degree...

Building communities across cultures

By Anthony Elder Cindy Mathias, member of Grace Church and volunteer for the International Welcome Center, noticed two newcomers –– both a bit nervous, even hesitant –– before a Sunday service in 2018. Those unfamiliar faces belonged to Congolese refugees, Jean and Joseph, both new to the United States, struggling to various degrees to communicate. Upon realizing their nationality, Mathias jumped to greet the young men. The Democratic Republic of Congo, once controlled by France, meant that the men surely knew some level of French (the country’s official language despite decades of independence). Mathias, a retired French teacher from Firestone...

‘We teach people how to North Hill’: The making and continual re-making of Akron’s international district

By Sean Blevins A light drizzle began to fall and steam was starting to rise through the numerous cracks in the unlevel sidewalks, but business went on as usual in Akron’s North Hill neighborhood.  The people roaming the narrow streets of Akron’s “international district” on the afternoon of March 9 cracked open their umbrellas and continued about their day, largely undeterred by the musty weather. Unfavorable weather typically leads to less revenue for businesses because people are less willing to go out, but customers kept pouring into the ethnic pop-up shops and grocery stores where they were buying everything from...

From jeweler to restaurant owner to head of arts and culture: The Deepak Gajmer story

By Jimmy Oswald Children scream joyfully, their voices filling the large room, an open area with a multi-colored padded floor and a small stage along the back wall inside the Himalayan Arts Language & Cultural Academy.  “It’s the last day before spring break,” Deepak Gajmer, the head of arts and culture at the academy, explains. “So, they are very excited.” The children’s play area sits empty while the children are in class at the Himalayan Arts Language & Cultural Academy. Photo by Jimmy Oswald.  Between 10 and 20 kids, most aged around 5 and 6 years old, run around the...

How one organization helps refugees get their citizenship

By Helena Sepulveda “When I moved here, I discovered that Akron was a refugee city, and I didn’t really know what that meant, " said Pastor Cary Duckett, a California native who is the executive director of the International Welcome Center. The center is a faith-based organization that works to assist refugees in becoming acclimated to their life in the United States.  "So I began to research… and I discovered that in Akron there are thousands of refugees… and they are all on a path to citizenship."Pastor cary duckett Love sign in North Hill International District. Photo by Grace Christopher....

Nepali refugees share their culture in Akron through food

Restaurants like Nepali Kitchen help add unique flavors to North Hill By Andrew Kuder Nepali Kitchen, Akron, Ohio. Photo by Andrew Kuder. Akron’s North Hill area is nicknamed “Akron’s International District.” It features restaurants, grocery stores and more businesses from Afghan, Nepali, Karen, Bhutanese, and Vietnamese refugees, among many other groups. A majority of these places are run by refugees, and they offer the chance for locals to connect with their cultures in fun and interesting ways. Right on Cuyahoga Falls Avenue is Nepali Kitchen, which employs refugees from Nepal. It’s the type of place many might not notice at...