Addressing mental health challenges refugee children face

By Brianna Canada Many refugee children live in North Hill and attend school together. Photo by Andrew Kuder Refugee children not only help to shape their community by helping their parents adapt to American culture, but they also educate non-refugee children and teens about refugee cultures and countries.  School, friends, and being social can be stressful on any child. Refugee children experience a unique set of circumstances that add to the stress they already feel to fit in.  Rollin Mukanza, a social worker and community coordinator at the International Institute of Akron, helps refugee children adjust to American culture. A...

Following the money trail from Washington, D.C. to Akron

By Trista Bowser and London Green Twenty-four thousand refugees have relocated in Ohio over the past decade, more than all but seven other states. Nonprofit organizations use federal and privately donated funds to resettle refugees. State Refugee Coordinator Jennifer Johnson oversees all the different aspects of refugee resettlement, from how many refugees Ohio receives every year to how much money Ohio receives for refugees. “All of our funding is federal funding,” explained Johnson. “There's no state funding involved.” Johnson explains that each state receives money from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. There, various resettlement agencies in Ohio enter into grant...

‘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...