Ohio church helps create a welcoming city for immigrants
Trinity United Church of Christ in Akron, Ohio, has always done its part to welcome the city’s thriving and diverse immigrant population. So the Rev. Carl Wallace and Trinity UCC members think it’s fitting that the city of Akron is now doing the same. In an effort to embrace its growing immigrant community, Akron has joined more than 50 cities and counties throughout the United States to become a “Welcoming City,” committed to providing an immigrant-friendly environment as the city works to maximize opportunities for cultural vitality and economic growth.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to extend that extravagant welcome, not just in words, but in deeds,” said Wallace. “That is in direct alignment to who we are as a denomination, so it’s a very easy fit for us to do this.”
The Welcoming Cities and Counties initiative was launched by Welcoming America in 2013, and the national effort aims to help attract and keep immigrants as an economic development tool. To take part, a city or county must approve a resolution and adopt policies to “promote inclusion within local government and the broader community.”
Akron has seen an increase specifically in Nepalese, Burmese, and Korean immigrants who are drawn to the International Institute of Akron, a nonprofit organization that welcomes new immigrants and helps them feel at home in the community. Wallace said that many of these people are settling in neighborhoods around Trinity UCC, and that the church reaches out to its new neighbors in various ways – from opening the doors of its food pantry, to donating clothing, to starting a community garden to grow the types of produce they like to cook with.
Trinity UCC also provides its space to 50-70 members of the Nepalese community for worship every Sunday afternoon, and helped coordinate a public prayer vigil at the International Institute in the aftermath of the earthquakes that have killed more than 8,000 people in Nepal.
“We wanted to let them know we love them,” Wallace said of the vigil. “I cannot commend our members enough for how they have embraced this emerging community.”
As Akron lives into its new title of a “Welcoming City,” Wallace said his church will continue its outreach to the immigrant community. He says ideas for future initiatives include arts projects, international festivals, and sporting events to bring the youth together.
Local clergy recognize that Akron’s influx of immigrants can have racial implications in the city. So he and three other pastors from the North Akron area have formed an ecumenical group to discuss these issues and work to understand the racial tension that can exist in diverse communities. To Wallace, the group, which met for the first time last week, is taking a realistic approach to addressing potential problems before they even start.
“We are not closing our eyes,” he said. “We are going forth with our eyes wide open.”
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