After several years of leading Welcoming Fort Wayne, a ministry of Associated Churches focusing on immigrant/refugee welcoming efforts, I feel encouraged by the various ways organizations, businesses and places of worship are embracing diversity and inclusion in our community.
Whether it's connecting someone to a needed service such as English-language classes, reconnecting with one's heritage at a place of worship, the library, History Center or ethnic festival, or someone seeking a new dining or cultural experience – we have more ways to connect with the rich diversity in our community than ever before.
I'm especially encouraged that the annual Welcoming Week (Sept. 12- 20) tradition initiated by Welcoming America continues to be celebrated around the country even in the midst of a pandemic. Fort Wayne is no exception.
“Creating Home Together” is this year's theme and is quite fitting, given the number of events scheduled in our community. Here are just a few:
• Amani Family Services is supporting immigrant/refugee-owned restaurants with an Around the World in Our Hometown dining initiative all this week.
• The YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne is holding cultural awareness training Thursday at Allen County Work One.
• The Language Services Network and Fort Wayne Museum of Art are holding free bilingual tours at the museum in Burmese and Spanish on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
• And, on Saturday the History Center shared artifacts, images and stories of various peoples who have made Fort Wayne their home for generations.
The Pew Research Center released a study in August noting that more immigrants live in the United States, more than 40 million, than in any other country in the world. This is the reality of the American landscape, so initiatives such as Welcoming Fort Wayne are especially important for a community's continued health and vitality.
Fort Wayne is a perfect example of how immigration continues to affect our community in positive ways.
The names of community leaders – Gerardot, Grabill, Freimann, Franke, Foellinger, Rudisill, Helmke, Lebamoff, Bojrab, GiaQuinta and more – speak to the socioeconomic influence immigrants and their descendants have had in Fort Wayne. Their economic investment only continues, as a New American Economy study found in its assessment of New Americans in Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana in 2018.
With increasing collaborative interests in welcoming newcomers, I'm encouraged that one day there will be a unified civic commitment to immigrant/refugee integration in Fort Wayne.
Research demonstrates that successful immigrant integration is more of a reflection of one's community than of national policies. And, what's beautiful is that we have these assets to leverage in Fort Wayne.
So, until then, I'll continue championing newcomers with the same fortitude my German and Belgian ancestors exhibited when they came to the United States generations ago.
Melissa Rinehart is lead organizer for Welcoming Fort Wayne.