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Coffee Contacts at Eastern Lake County Chamber of Commerce; Youth Forum Concerning Refugees and Immigrants

IMG_9850We began our day at the Eastern Lake County Chamber of Commerce's Coffee Contacts held at Atlas Cinemas located in the Great Lakes Mall in Mentor. Mr. Chris Baxter, Atlas General Manager, made sure that we had plenty of popcorn as we settled into a newly refurbished auditorium to network. It was a joy to be there because the Atlas complex in the Great Lakes Mall is in the process of installing very comfortable insulated seats in the entire complex so we got to sit back and recline while we talked. According to Mr. Baxter, the whole complex will have these great comfortable seats by the end of the month and the older seats (only 8 years old and still relaxing) will be sent to another location to replace the seating that is 30 years old.

We talked to Mr. Skip Trombetti from Mentor Photo Service about our plans for the weekend which included the Centennial Celebration for the Cleveland Cultural Gardens on Friday night. Mr. Trombetti said that, as a photographer, he had photographed events at many of the Gardens over the years and considered them to be a very "intriguing look at culture" and we couldn't agree with him more.

While we were there we talked to a representative from Lake/Geauga County Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) about the human resource conventions that we plan to attend this year in Orlando, Florida; Washington, D.C.; and the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio.

We are grateful to Ms. Donna Price of First Federal Lakewood for remembering to bring a new coin purse for us because the First Federal coin purse that we had before had aged with time so for the last few weeks we carried our change in a makeshift purse we constructed from an old sock.

One more thing about the extra comfortable seats; we loved sitting in them for this meeting but are not sure if we want to watch a movie sitting in them because they are so luxurious that we might fall asleep and miss the movie we went there to see.

IMG_9865Next we went to the City Club of Cleveland for a Youth Forum concerning refugees and immigrants put together entirely by the young people. Along these lines, the audience was composed almost entirely of students from Shaw High School, Cleveland Montessori School, Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School, Andrews Osborne Academy, Early College at John Hay, and St. Martin de Porres High School. The format was a panel discussion in which the panelists were our Mr. Scott Bratton, a Partner with Margaret W. Wong and Associates; Mr. Tom Mrosko, Director of the Migration and Refugee Services Office of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland; and Mr. Khoon Thomas Kate, Program Coordinator and Board Member of the Refugee Response Network. Mr. KateIMG_9874 was also a panelist at a screening of the documentary, "Walls" the previous evening. Yesterday in this blog we identified him as Burmese which was incorrect. Mr. Kate is a Karen refugee (an ethnic group living in Southeast Asia) from Burma who lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for 12 years before he was permitted to come to the United States.

The moderator was Ms. Kirsten Pomales, Youth Forum Council Secretary and a senior at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School. The program was introduced by Ms. Tiolu Oresanya who provided us with IMG_9868excellent background information about the Worldwide Refugee Crisis as well as well-researched biographies of each of the panelists. Other Youth Forum Council members who briefly spoke were Mr. Anthony Price and Mr. Justin Tinker.

During the discussion, Ms. Pomales put such questions to the panelists as "What is a refugee and do we have an obligation to assist them?"; "What about taking in more Syrian refugees?"; "What is Cleveland, as well as the United States, doing to assist them?"; "What should be done about people living in the United States illegally?"; and "Where would you like us to be in 20 years or so?"

All of the panelists agreed on virtually everything and all were of the conviction that we need to help refugees as much as possible because they left their home country not out of convenience or the desire to prosper economically but because they were fleeing for their lives. If anything, they would like to see the number increased from the State Department's proposed ceiling of 85,000 in 2016.

As for the Syrian refugees, all of the panelists resented the untruths that are being generated by political entities at this time. They agreed that the current screening process is indeed quite formidable and were comfortable with allowing more refugees from all countries to settle here provided they get through the screening. Along these lines, they would not alter the process but would allocate more resources towards the people needed to clear more people in an expedient fashion so they would not have to stay in a refugee camp for 18 to 24 months.

During the course of the discussion, it was emphasized that only a small number of immigrants/refugees are engaged in serious illegal activity and most of them are working hard to better their own lives and the lives of those around them. Of course, it would be a significant step if people could get away from thinking of undocumented immigrants as "illegal aliens" which connotates something extremely negative.

Some areas of the United States are not as immigrant/refugee friendly as others but the refugee support agencies of Cleveland were termed "awesome" as well as the services that they provided. As for the future, all of them would like to see comprehensive immigration reform but obtaining this is very dependent on who the next U.S. President is and the make-up of the Legislative branch of the U.S. IMG_9869government.

During the Q and A, the panelists were asked about what motivated them to do the work that they do.

Mr. Bratton said that he was inspired by the work that he has seen immigrants do in many areas including business and research and how so much of what they do helps the economy. Mr. Bratton said that he loves conveying this to others and recalled a meeting that he had with some doctors. Once the doctors heard about health conditions in refugee camps and the services performed by the Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland, they seriously offered to volunteer their time and their expertise both here and abroad.

Mr. Mrosko talked about how he once worked in a refugee camp in Kenya so he saw, first hand, the tough conditions they had to endure. He went on to say that he just loved his job and that he considered it a "blessing" to be able to work these courageous people.

Mr. Kate said that as a refugee himself, he wants to give back to the community that has been so kind and generous towards him. And give back Mr. Kate does do. During the introductions, Ms. Oresanya said that on a "daily basis" Mr. Kate "provides a number of invaluable services, including interpretation, employment coordination, transportation and general advocacy to ensure that every refugee community member obtains critical access to resources and ultimately receives high quality support."

By: Michael Patterson  Community Liaison, Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.