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Out & About in Cleveland

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Campaigning, Community Refugee Festival, and IRTF Coffee Night

We started off on Friday, June 6th, at 10am in Lyndhurst where we spent two hours helping our friend Anthony Fossaceca, known to all of us as "Foss", in his campaign to be elected Ohio State Representative of the 6th district. On this day, Anthony's undertaking was to walk through parts of all of the 18 communities of his district-50 miles total in just 24 hours! If things go according to schedule Anthony will take a break at about 10pm in Walton Hills and start back up 3am on Saturday morning. He will finish is walk at 10am on Saturday morning at Panera's in Seven Hills.

Anthony likes to have people walk with him for companionship and support so we walked with him for awhile and helped pass out literature. Wherever he found someone working in their front lawn, Anthony stopped and spoke with them for a moment or two.

We gave a piece of literature to a man who promised to read it and consider Anthony because "if a candidate cares enough to go out walking and give me information I will read it. Everything else that I get in the mail from candidates I toss." We certainly have empathy for him because we have found that trying to read all of the mailings at election time can be an overwhelming process.

Regardless of whether one agrees with a politician or not, to walk so far in so short a time and while still spending time hearing what potential constituents have to say is a tremendous project and we hope Anthony completes it and then goes home and gets some rest. When we started the walk there was some TV coverage and there is certain to be more when he finishes.

We were not there when Anthony completed his walk on Saturday morning but we understand that he made it in just 23 hours and 58 minutes so he met his goal of doing in 24 hours. As of Sunday afternoon he was "recovering slowly" but already starting to return telephone calls and emails from local residents "who were excited to see that we were in their neighborhood." Anthony definitely seemed in high spirits and also said that "we've got more creative ideas cooking"...

We, ourselves, were tired after just two hours of walking so we rested up so that on Friday evening we could attend the 2nd Annual Community Refugee Festival which was put on by Us Together and held at the Green Road Annex of John Carroll University in University Heights. The available literature told us that Us Together is a mutual assistance agency (which means that it was founded and run by refugees) whose purpose is "to coordinate, organize, and initiate services to immigrants and refugees through education, advocacy, support services, information, referrals, and networking opportunities in order to strengthen the community that we live in."

There are offices in Cleveland Heights, Columbus, and Toledo. It was founded in 2003 in response to the growing needs of refugees and immigrants in central Ohio and initially devoted itself to the needs of the Russian speaking populations but in 2005 it began resettling diverse refugee populations including people from the former Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq, Burma, Bhutan, Eritrea, Somalia, Congo, Sudan, Burundi, and Rwanda. The Cleveland Heights office opened in 2008 and assumed the caseload and responsibilities of the Jewish Family Services Association when it closed its refugee resettlement program. The Cleveland Heights office mainly works with those from the Former Soviet Union, Bhutan and Iraq.

When we first arrived we spoke to Mark Rodney (Employment Services Coordinator) and Barbara Hochstetler (Interpreting Services) and found out that Ms. Hochstetler's brother John and his wife Miriam were assisted by Margaret W. Wong when Miriam immigrated to the United States from Honduras about five years ago. We visited with Danielle Drake who is the Resettlement Support and Resource Specialist who we have met at several other events, and got to meet Nadia Kasvin who is the Director/Co-Founder of Us Together as well as Helen Tarkhanova who is the Director of Resettlement.

There was a brief but memorable program presided over by Ms. Drake in which the attendees got to watch Nepali dances and listen to three talented muscians played music from their countries of origin on their acoustic guitars and invited participants to come up on stage and dance to their music and three people did just that.

Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman sent a proclamation and Ms. Susanna Niermann O'Neil; Vice City Manager/Director of Community Services of the City of Cleveland Heights; also presented a proclamation and spoke for a few minutes about how Cleveland Heights is proud of its diversity and congratulated the staff of Us Together for all of the good work that they do and said that the "Cleveland Heights, its city council and its citizens celebrate what you are doing and are glad you came to our town."

Asian Services in Action was tabling here so we got to say hello to Sujata Burgess and several of our other friends. Among the organizations also tabling were the International Services Center, Primerica, Cuyahoga Jobs and Family Services, Global Cleveland, Refugee Response, Neighborhood Family Practice, and Nepal Orphans Home.

We had another event to attend so we had to leave just before dinner but on the way out to the parking lot we stopped and spoke with Ms. Susanna Neirmann O'Neil about how difficult it must be for people to leave their homeland and resettle in an entirely different culture with an entirely different language.

Fortunately, there are places like Us Together to help them.

We had to postpone dinner so we could catch the last part of Columbia Coffee Night put on by the Interreligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF) at St. Paul's on Franklin Avenue which was on the other side of Cleveland.

Nevertheless, there was still plenty of salad and bean tamales left so we were sustained and thus able to pay attention to Sarah Sommers' important presentation about recent happenings in Columbia. Sarah was heartened when President Santos agreed to negotiate with the representatives of the Columbian people regarding how to solve Columbia's problems largely brought on by imbalances in the trade agreements and/or how they are being implemented.

Sarah was very impressed by the way the Columbian people of the farm, mining and fishing communities (among others) put aside their differences and effectively organized for the good of the whole resulting in 120,000 people taking part in demonstrations across the country which called for the government to be more responsive to their needs of Columbia and its people.

We can only hope that things are eventually worked out for the betterment of all involved.

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