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First Refugee Summit at Cleveland City Hall

On Thursday, October 30th, our first event was Coffee Contacts with the Painesville/Mentor Chambers of Commerce. This morning it was held at the Grove Church in Painesville where our friend Jeff Sivyer, who is also President of the Executive Board of the Painesville Chamber, is the lead pastor. We made several new contacts there today like Pastor David Erlandson of the Trinity Baptist Church of Mentor who is very interested in immigrant issues. Ms. Chris Jarrell from Century 21 Homestar told us that she wished that someone had thought of Ms. Margaret W. Wong years ago when a Latvian couple who had immigrated to the United States started having problems which resulted in the wife being deported; from what we were told it seems like the lawyer that they were using took advantage of them. Mr. David Sigg from Global Real Estate Advisors, Inc. made us laugh when he said, "I came here from Greece fifty years ago and Margaret Wong turned me down!"

We really appreciated it when Mr. David B. Komjati from KeyBank on North State Street in Painesville offered to take some of our literature and put it out on their information table.

What's more, today Pastor Jeff proudly told us that the Painesville Chamber of Commerce will soon unite with the Perry Madison Chamber for upcoming events which is good for us because we will then have an additional 300 people to network with!

Our next event was the "First Refugee Summit". This wonderful gathering was held in the Rotunda in Cleveland City Hall and was hosted, first and foremost, by Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman in partnership with Cleveland City Council Health and Human Services Committee and the Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland. It was moderated by Mr. Dan Moulthrop, CEO of the City Club of Greater Cleveland. Ms. Sara Elaqad and Mr. Bao Nguyen from Margaret W. Wong and Associates took time out of their busy day to be there with us.

First of all, 4518 refugees settled in Cleveland between 2000 and 2012 and 598 alone in 2012. During his opening remarks, Councilman Cimperman stated that the our goal should be to bring in 1500 new refugees to Cleveland each year.

Then Mr. Brian Upton, Executive Director, of Building Hope in the City gave an overview of the two-year-old Refugee Services Collaborative which consists of at least 13 organizations which are Asian Services in Action, Building Hope in the City, Cleveland Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Cuyahoga County Job and Family Services, El Barrio Workforce Development Center of the Centers for Families and Children, Global Cleveland, International Services Center, Lakewood City Schools, Neighborhood Family Practice, Ohio Dept. of Job and Family Services Refugee State Coordinator, the Refugee Response, and US Together.

He was followed by Mr. Tom Mrosko, Director of Migrant and Refugee Services who presented "Refugee 101" in which he defined what a refugee is, what they have to go through to resettle in the United States, why they have come to Cleveland, and how they are assisted after they come here. We learned that most of Cleveland's refugees come from Iraq, Entrea, Bhutan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Burma, Somalia, the Congo, Ukraine, and Ethiopia. What makes Cleveland so ideal for them to come here are safe affordable housing, strong schools, great healthcare, and the fact that we are a welcoming community. Moreover, it is small enough to be safe and big enough to prosper. The three resettlement agencies in Cleveland are Catholic Charities, the International Services Center and US Together.

Then there were three panels. The first panel consisted of four refugees from such places as the Congo and Bhutan talking about why they had to leave their countries of origin and what it is like to resettle in the United States, specifically in Cleveland. We listened to what they had to say and are very glad that Mr. Mouyad Abduljabar, Mr. Ganga Diyali, Ms. Louise Mugongo and Ms. Helen Tarkhanova are now part of our Cleveland community.

The second panel consisted of business people talking about their experiences hiring refugees. The people on this panel were Mr. John McMicken (Evergreen Cooperative Corporation), Mr. Jose Manzanares (Cheesecake Factory), and Mr. Darren Hamm (Refugee Response/Ohio City Farms). All of them reported positive experiences. Included on this panel were Mr. Lou Tisler (Neighborhood Housing Services) and Mr. Daryl Anderson (AP Business Solutions) who talked about housing issues for refugees.

The last panel concerned Refugee Support and it consisted of Dr. Erick Kauffman from Neighborhood Family Practices, Ms. Valerie McCall from the City of Cleveland and the Board of Global Cleveland, and Ms. Maria Bozak from Thomas Jefferson International Newcomers Academy which we toured several weeks ago with Councilman Cimperman.

The presentation that we found especially pertinent was when Mr. Brian Upton shared an economic impact study pertaining to Cleveland that was done in 2012-2013 that effectively challenged a lot of the negative rumors and myths about immigrants and refugees. First of all, a refugee usually finds employment five months after arriving in the United States so he/she is not lazy or shiftless if one figures the amount of money spent by refugee families, refugee owned businesses, and refugee service organizations then $48 million dollars worth of business was generated by refugees in the Cleveland area in 2012 and 650 new jobs were created.

A person who has immigrated to the United States is 23% more likely than a native born person to start up a business. From about 2002 through 2012, at least 38 businesses were started by refugees in Cleveland that went on to employ 148 people (including the owners). Almost all of the employees were refugees themselves. These businesses generated $12 million in spending in 2012. In fact, in 2012 refugee spending generated $2.7 million in local and state sales tax. And over the last decade refugees accounted for 248 home purchases in Cuyahoga county. This report consists of 44 pages and is available online at the Refugee Services Collaborative website at It contains an abundance of facts like those just mentioned.

Among the people that we talked to at the summit were Ms. Joy Roller of Global Cleveland; Ms. Janus Small of Janus Small Associates who told us to be sure to say hello to Ms. Wong and Ms. Judith Lozada; Manager of Volunteers, Events and Translations for the Office of Family and Community Engagement for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. We also got to talk to Pastor Michael Wallace of the Lakewood Baptist Church.

Prior to leaving, all of the attendees were asked to sign a "Welcoming Pledge" which stated that we stood for America's highest values of acceptance and equality and would treat all people with respect and compassion; we committed to being neighborly and welcoming to all in our community including newcomers; when given the opportunity to engage with immigrants and refugees in our community and to build bridges through conversations and sharing; to support immigrant and refugee owned businesses, restaurants and cultural celebrations; to be agents of welcome for foreigners and strangers in our neighborhoods, workplaces, houses of worship and communities; to speak out as a voice for the voiceless if I witness oppression and exclusion; and to stand for respect, kindness, compassion and dignity for all.

We were very happy that the Rotunda was filled with people wanting to know more about this issue. Councilman Cimperman, who got a much deserved round of applause/appreciation, was emotionally choked as he said that City Hall exists for days like this and that he so much wanted a person who has left his/her homeland out of necessity and is now alone on a plane bound for a land strange to him/her will eventually come to Cleveland and find a home where they can be happy and safe.

Our last event for the day was organized by our good friend, Mr. Alex Machaskee and his wife, Carol at the Ridge Manor Party Center on Ridge Road in Brooklyn for the purpose of acquainting people with the Orthodox Christian Network (OCN).

According to the information that we were given, the OCN was founded 20 years ago at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Fort Lauderdale as a local radio outreach but grew into the first nationally syndicated radio program of the Orthodox Church. Its mission is to inspire, inform, and encourage Orthodox Christians and seekers throughout the world and to complement the work done by local parishes as well as to strengthen the church in this digital age.

The speaker was Reverend Dr. Christopher T. Metropulos who is the Executive Director of the OCN. We found him to be a very sincere upbeat person who really believed in what he is doing and works very hard. Rev. Metropulos also possesses a good sense of humor and during his presentation joked about a colleague not being there because he was at the Cavs game.

During his introduction, Mr. Machaskee also joked about having to compete with the Cavs but said that it was great to see so many people there from different ethnicities such as Greek, Serbian, Russian. He acknowledged that his good friend, Ms. Margaret W. Wong had sent a representative, and thus the Chinese were represented there also (i.e. at least in spirit).

Father Metropulos spoke about his concern that the number of Orthodox Christians has been dwindling to the point of there being only about 800,000 to 900,000 in the United States or less than 1% of the Christians in the United States. Thirty years ago there were 3,000 Orthodox Christian weddings per week but last year there were only 930 total. He went on to discuss his own background and how he came to the belief that the OCN might be the best hope for reversing the trend.

Regarding the effectiveness of OCN in terms of helping the Orthodox Church, we learned that it reaches hundreds of thousands of people each month through its website, 3 internet radio stations, podcasts, and live video broadcasts; it engages millions of people per week on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram; and, most importantly, 72% of OCN's social media following is 34 years or younger and they will hopefully be the next generation of leaders in the Orthodox Church.

We got to meet two other clergymen who were the Very Reverend John Zdinak of St. Theodosius (who is a good friend of Ms. Wong's and said to say hello to her) and Father Matthew Thurman of St. Luke's Antiochian Orthodox Christian Mission in Chagrin Falls.

We also visited with Mr. Gus Mougianis and his wife, Maria and learned that they both immigrated to the United States from Greece at different times; she came in 1967 and he came in 1971 but they met in college and were married and have had stands at the Westside market for over 30 years.

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