By: Katie Sobiech
The beauty of the International Institute of Akron (IIA) is that they aren’t just a “hand out” of services; instead, they give the foreign-born dignity by helping them successfully transition into society.
The stories of transformation and change within the individuals having gone through the program are many. The Women’s Endowment Fund published an inspirational story of one woman who came from Egypt.
“She was a Christian but with it being a Muslim area there was some persecution for her religion, so she came here, but with nothing,” Shelly Durbin, Director and Development and Public Relations at the IIA said.
As a single mother, this woman still made time to attend every IIA class; including Financial Literacy and Women’s Empowerment. She learned English, got established and eventually bought her own home.
“There are a lot of success stories,” Durbin said.
Both refugees and immigrants are motivated by the IIA through specific requirements. Within 90 days the refugees are required to have an apartment and get their kids enrolled in school. The IIA helps them through this process, as well as making sure they get the resources and whatever assistance that they need.
Getting a job is also high on the list of goals.
“With the economy and the way it’s been in the last year and a half it’s been a challenge, however we have been pretty successful with placing refugees,” Durbin said. “We have women that are amazing seamstresses, so they’ve been placed in really high skilled jobs.”
Many of the refugees work in factories as well.
On their work ethic, Durbin says the refugees are extremely hard working.
“They show up for work early, leave late and are very dependable,” she said.
The only drawback is that some do not drive right away and rely on public transportation.
The IIA could not do what they do on their own. Because of this, they work with both Asia Inc. and International Friendship of Akron in seeking to help international students.
One dream of theirs, which Durbin shares, is to establish programming together and be housed in the same facility.
“We’re looking forward to having a new building in the future. It will definitely be a collaborative effort among the agencies to provide services to the foreign born, kind of like an international center and global village type thing,” she said.
The IIA is currently working with WVIZ radio and TV who are doing a series on the census. Because the IIA is a partner agency with the U.S. Census for hard-to-count populations, they will be working together.
“Apparently in the 2000 census they didn’t do a good job of counting minorities, so we’re working very close with them to get a better count on peoples in the community,” Durbin said.
More exciting news, the United Way will also be awarding IIA’s volunteer teachers at their event this April.
“A lot of these people are teachers, retired teachers, students, or retired people and veterans; all kinds of people. Some have been here a long time and they really enjoy it,” Durbin said.
For those interested, the IIA is always seeking more help. They can use teachers and after-school youth help. Because they are a non- profit they do accept donations of all kinds, including furniture, clothes, toys, and financial gifts. For more information on how you can help please visit their website: http://www.iiakron.org or call 330.376.5106.