International Institute of Akron
North Hill Community
(Part One of Two)
Story by: Katie Cassaro
Maria Mancinelli and Susan Wuscher know what it’s like to be new to a foreign country.
Mancinelli, the International Institute of Akron’s (IIA) Community Outreach Coordinator, and Wuscher, International Consultant and Contractor, both have lived overseas and are aware of the challenges that come with living in a new country.
“We were on the flip side of it once. Maria and I have traveled, worked and lived abroad. We gravitate to these kinds of environments, and for us, the International Institute is really the one place we can be around folks who are like us, speaking different languages and getting excited about different parts of the world,” Wuscher shared.
For this reason, the IIA exists and continues to grow and flourish throughout Akron’s North Hill community, serving 10,000 immigrants and resettling over 500 refugees each year.
And with this spring comes many fresh, new changes for the institute.
The IIA, a non-profit starting up in 1916, welcomes immigrants and refugees coming into Akron. More than just an organization, they’re a group of people with a passion to make over Akron.
IIA hopes to bring forth a cultural infusion and are doing so by creating somewhat of an international district, taking it to the streets with their tours and community interaction.
“We like to say we’re the ‘unofficial international district’ in Akron. We have a tagline ‘Many cultures – One community’,” Wuscher said.
“Our focus is that the International Institute is a place where Akron can meet the rest of the world,” she continued.
“The International Institute has a strong role in this neighborhood because we’ve been around for so long. It’s the reason there’s so many Italian and Polish here and new immigrants and refugees coming in, so we’ve been highlighting some of that in the neighborhood,” Mancinelli said.
And in order to assist incoming immigrants and refugees in resettling, they’ve begun providing tours this past year.
“It’s for them to feel more comfortable in the neighborhood,” Mancinelli shared.
They take the new Americans around town to places such as the bank and show them how to withdraw money, as well as the library and post office.
“We have a really good relationship with the North Hill library so we take them there and sign people up for library cards. We go to CVS Pharmacy and explain the difference between over-the-counter and prescription medicine. Then we go to the post office and show them how to buy stamps and mail a letter. Then we go to the community center,” Mancinelli shared of their adventures.
And they do this weekly.
On the flip-side they also provide tours for people who’ve been living in Akron for years, yet would like to experience the new culture in North Hill.
There’s an excitement that comes with the tours organized by the IIA and North Hill Community Leaders – and never a lack of interest.
“A lot of the businesses were unknown to many of us who live and work next to them so we came up with the first Market Tour in October of last year and it was to highlight immigrant and refugee businesses in North Hill because there’s so many that have come up in the past decade,” Mancinelli said.
IIA works with Urban Vision, a neighborhood ministry that works with many refugees, and Neighbors Apparel, a clothing shop that employs refugees.
They also stop by a Nepali grocery store and Mexican grocery truck.
“It’s going really well and there’s definitely an interest to expand it so we’ve done one every month this year. They’ve been filling up quickly,” Mancinelli said.
Many of these local businesses will be on display at the upcoming Better Block event coming May 15th.
“We’re very proud that they chose North Hill. A lot of our colleagues, partners and former clients who’ve started businesses and are residents here are so excited to be a part of this process and to see so much good stuff and the recognition that has gone unnoticed about what’s really cool here,” Wuscher said.
“It’s really such an exciting time to see such prominent people come in and say ‘Wow this is like an international district’,” she continued, bringing up the thought, ‘What would it look like if we were to be really intentional about it? Imagine what we could do.’
“To see everyone jump on that bandwagon and see the opportunities and possibilities – it’s pretty limitless,” she said.
Stay tuned for next week’s story going even deeper into the exciting changes happening at the International Institute of Akron!
For more information on IIA please visit: http://iiakron.org/