The Journal Gazette
Monday, October 11, 2021 1:00 am

Five questions for Ewelina Connolly

Chief executive officer, Amani Family Services

1 What is the role of Amani Family Services in our community?

Our mission is to partner with refugee and immigrant families, and the community, to promote safety, encourage personal growth and foster spirit of belonging.

For nearly two decades, Amani has served as one of the main pillars of mental health and advocacy for our multicultural community. We fill a crucial gap in services by providing culturally responsive mental health services and advocacy to more than 2,000 mission families each year. Amani's programming brings wholeness to refugees and immigrant families who experience brokenness due to violence, crime, mental health challenges, substance use, abuse and neglect.

In addition, through the Welcoming Fort Wayne initiative, Amani promotes community-building to advance Fort Wayne's growth by reducing barriers to education, language, civic engagement, inclusion, infrastructure challenges and other challenges that may impede sense of safety, personal growth and spirit of belonging among the newcomers in our community.


2 Your agency recently received a grant from St. Joseph Community Health Foundation to create a family justice center. What services will be available there?

We are very grateful to SJCHF and other founders in our community who support Amani's mission and trust our innovative and forward thinking around prioritizing the needs of our mission families. Victim care services have always been at the heart of Amani; in fact, this was the very reason behind our organization.

Family justice center service delivery model is nationally recognized as best practice standard of care. It allows us to build on our strengths, experience and infrastructure to respond better to the needs of our clients, and specifically address challenges related to access and continuation of care for immigrant and refugee victims of domestic violence and other crimes.

We are hoping to accomplish this by “mapping” the victims' journey to justice and safety, and inviting key social service providers, representatives of local justice system and law enforcement to render services to our clients right on Amani's campus. SJCHF's funding directly supports our partnership with Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, which is now available on site and free of charge to Amani clients.


3 The 2021 Diversity Awards will be presented on Oct. 22. What is the purpose of the event and what is Amani's role?

The 2021 Diversity Awards celebrate the achievements of exceptional immigrants and refugees, native community individuals, organizations and companies that have demonstrated a strong commitment to multiculturalism, and others who have shown dedication to creating a welcoming Fort Wayne community.

The Diversity Awards are hosted by Welcoming Fort Wayne, a chapter of Welcoming America, an initiative of Amani Family Services, and supported by time, talent and resources of many leaders of our local organizations, which include St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, Associated Churches, the city of Fort Wayne, East Allen County Schools, Fort Wayne Community Schools, Ivy Tech Community College, Purdue University Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne Metro, Friends of the Third World, Language Services Network, Multicultural Council of Fort Wayne, Parkview Health, Wellspring Interfaith Social Services and YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne.

This year's awards will fall under three categories: Welcoming Organization, Lifetime Achiever and an Emerging Leader.


4 Is Fort Wayne a welcoming community for immigrants and refugees?

Creating a welcoming community is much like striving for cultural competency – it is a journey rather than destination. It starts with ensuring that everyone belongs. It is a purposeful movement, based in changing systems and culture to create welcoming policies and new approaches to inclusion.

In welcoming places, the local government and both public and private sectors implement strategies and programs to promote civic engagement, to assure opportunities are available to all residents, and acknowledge immigrants and refugees as key players in economic development. Welcoming communities foster trust and build relationships between newcomers, current residents, law enforcement and safety agencies. I believe our community has made strides in many of those areas.

We are very lucky to be a part of a community that is so rich where it truly matters: rich in culture, language, heritage and spirituality. Amani's Welcoming Fort Wayne initiative is intended to provide a platform for our community to solidify our commitment to creating an environment where everyone can truly thrive.


5 You are an immigrant yourself. What is your immigration story and how did you come to be CEO of Amani?

I was born and raised in Poland and found my way to Fort Wayne, Indiana, over 20 years ago. What has brought me here was perhaps a juvenile, inflated sense of courage and curiosity; what has been keeping me here is the community and the many opportunities to do important work for people like me, immigrants and refugees who have made Fort Wayne their home away from home.

I was introduced to Amani in 2009 when I took on a home-based therapist position. Since then I have served as the clinical director and chief operations officer before being nominated by Amani's board of directors to serve as chief executive officer in July of this year. I have enjoyed having the opportunity to “grow up” at Amani professionally, and I am very grateful to serve a mission that so closely aligns with my personal values and fulfills my sense of purpose.

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