welcoming indianapolis

The Immigrant Welcome Center of Indianapolis (IWC) came to Dayton on January 30 for a city-to-city visit with Welcome Dayton. Melissa Bertolo, Welcome Dayton Program Coordinator, invited the IWC to Dayton to share ideas with Welcome Dayton’s sub-committee focused on creating a welcome center. In order to ensure a mutually beneficial engagement, Melissa arranged additional meetings for the visitors during their visit.

Our visitors included:

  • Terri Morris-Downs, Executive Director, Immigrant Welcome Center
  • Maria Pimentel-Gannon, IWC Board of Directors and Natural Helper volunteer
  • Jane Gehlhausen, Office of Mayor Greg Ballard, City of Indianapolis
  • Hanako Gavia, AmeriCorps Member, Welcoming Indianapolis Coordinator

After a welcome by Catherine Crosby, Executive Director of the Human Relations Council, the visitors from Indianapolis met with Stephanie Precht, Director of Public Policy and Economic Development at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce to discuss economic development programs. Stephanie is also chair of the Welcome Dayton Business and Economic Development sub-committee. Stephanie discussed the Chamber’s interest in Welcome Dayton and highlighted career discernment services for skilled immigrants, small business resource fairs, and international student retention research. IMG_0359

Next, the group visited East End Community Services to hold a meeting for the Welcoming Center sub-committeeEast End is a wrap-around social service agency located in the Twin Towers neighborhood, which has experienced rapid demographic changes with a growing Latino community. Jan Lepore-Jentleson, Executive Director of East End and chair of the Welcome Center sub-committee, welcomed the Indianapolis guests. Representatives from Dayton Public Schools, Premier Health, the Dayton Police Department, and Hispanic Catholic Ministries were all excited about the information shared at this meeting and were inspired to continue to think about how the Indianapolis model might be implemented in Dayton. 

With no time for a break, Melissa and the visitors from Indianapolis went to their next meeting with Officer Dan Mamula to discuss community-police relations with immigrant populations. Officer Mamula discussed the work he and other officers are doing in Dayton, including mentoring young immigrants, holding orientation sessions with recently arrived refugees, and training for new recruits. Indianapolis was particularly interested in discussing how to build trust within immigrant communities; Officer Mamula explained the importance of being able to build relationships and be present at community events. Officer Mamula discussed the importance of having the support from his supervisors in the work he does. He explained that he is able to attend all of the community events because the Chief and Command Staff encourage officers to be engaged and allow them to do so as a part of their work.

The meetings ended with conversation around language access, which both cities acknowledged as a challenge throughout their communities. Melissa shared Dayton’s newly adopted language access policy and the training taking place as a result. Finally, after a busy day filled with inspiring conversation and interesting ideas, Melissa took the Indianapolis visitors on a short tour of some areas being revitalized in Dayton. The tour included Neal Avenue (where they saw several community gardens tended by a group of African refugees), Old North Dayton (where the history of the past and present have created a multi-ethnic neighborhood), and back to Twin Towers to understand how the presence of East End Community Services has been essential in the community’s growth.

Before heading back to Indianapolis, the group enjoyed a quick dinner at a local NY Pizzeria owned by an Ahiska Turkish family. After all, nothing demonstrates America quite like a pizza shop owned by new immigrants!