International Institute Brings Cultural Fusion to Better Block

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Story By: Katie Cassaro

The weekend of May 15th marks a groundbreaking day in Akron where local citizens will take over part of the city in North Hill for three days. Can you imagine what that will look like?

Restaurants filling the streets, vacant storefronts decorated with local businesses arts and crafts, along with many other sights to see.

Get ready because your entire view of Akron may change, opening your eyes to a whole new world you might not have known existed.

It’s definitely not a day to miss.

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Diversity Next Door

You don’t need to travel far in order to experience culturally diverse people, food, arts & ways of life. Right here in the unique neighborhood of North Hill lies a diverse community with much to offer.

And there, at the center of it all, is the International Institute of Akron (IIOA), a non-profit thrilled about the Better Block opportunity to showcase what they’ve known for years.

IIOA plays a major role in the big day as it fits their daily vision for the city. Since 1916 they’ve worked to cultivate relationships between refugees, immigrants and the community.

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Time to Shine

IIOA hopes to spark a cultural infusion, showcasing the greatest assets of Akron’s people.

“Better block will empower people,” Maria Mancinelli, Community Outreach Coordinator, said, “There will be an open market and many people with food and selling items such as clothing, arts and crafts, as well as many performances.”

Bike Kitchen, a local bike shop the IIOA has been working with to provide bikes for incoming refugees, will also participate.

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International Welcome Center

The IIOA will even make some of their future dreams come true that day, setting up a pop-up International Welcome Center with Akron International Friendship.

The idea was inspired by the Welcoming America Initiative which encourages cities to have an international welcome or immigrant center.

“The focus is on making welcoming communities for immigrants in terms of economic development, and (showing) that it’s a good thing,” Susan Wuscher, International Consultant & Contractor, said.

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Making Ideas Happen

This is something that’s been in the works for quite some time, as the IIOA’s been working with the Mayor and City Council on it.

“Akron’s been on the radar and there’s every intention that it will become an official ‘welcoming city’,” Wuscher said.

Thanks to Better Block, they get a temporary start up.

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Future Plans

For their future permanent fixture, Wuscher says, “We designed what it would look like. There would be a global concierge where people can walk in and get information.”

“The Welcome Center would be a place where Akron can meet the rest of the world. They can learn about different countries. There would be seminars, workshops, consulting services provided. People could come in, get a lot of information and referrals. It would also be an immigration law center. That’s what we’re going to present in a vacant storefront on Main Street (during Better Block),” Wuscher shared.

The IIOA is already involved in a lot of these processes but Wuscher says that still there “really isn’t one place where folks can go that is an international mecca of information”.

Better Block has inspired them even more so, to push for this dream.

“The Better Block shows how much opportunity is available that perhaps the Institute hadn’t been taking advantage of in the past,” Wuscher said.

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Momo Dumplings

On the lighter side, delicious, unique food will be on display.

Tiffany Stacy, involved in job placement for refugees at the IIOA, started up 3 Sisters Momo with her sister-in-laws – refugees born in Bhutan who moved to Akron 5 years ago.

Together they make Napoli dumplings, or “momo dumplings”, made primarily of cabbage – which sets them apart.

Currently they sell their food at the Stray Dog Café stand.

Starting up just a few months ago, Better Block will provide them with an even greater opportunity to share their business.

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Changing North Hill’s Image

“It’s going to be really beneficial. It capitalizes on the momentum that’s already begun and re-frames North Hill as a cool international district. We’ve been working on changing (the image people have of North Hill) and this just gives them that extra boost to do it,” Stacy said.

“We’ve been working on changing the image and promoting the development of the area” she continued.

And they’re getting quite creative in their planning.

On the third and last day of the event they will create a restaurant with Charly Murphy, Owner of the Stray Dog, in the middle of a street. They’ll close it off, setting up tables and creating a cultural fusion menu based on Nepali and American foods.

This is truly an event you want to experience, not hear about afterwards! For more information please visit: http://teambetterblock.com/akron/

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