Story By: Katie Cassaro
Unique is one of the best ways to describe Akron’s very own growing cultural district in North Hill.
“There really isn’t anything else in Akron that has such a unique international focus as this,” Susan Wuscher, International Consultant & Contractor, shared.
And the International Institute of Akron (IIA) is watering continuous efforts to support the growth of cultural inclusion in this diverse part of the city.
With that has come many new things springing up, bringing positive change.
What’s Springing Up
Some of the IIA’s most recent changes include new leadership, which has transformed the organization as a whole.
IIA was run for about 30 years by the same Executive Director, and now, after a period of transition, Elaine Woloshyn became Executive Director in 2012.
“It was a unique transition point for the organization. Elaine came in and evaluated each department, brought me and a number of others in to go through everything and fix what needed to be fixed, as well as other organizational things,” Wuscher explained.
“There’s been a lot of rapid change and a greater focus on the responsibility we have outside our doors, not just inside the doors,” she continued.
Building a Strong Practice
A pure joy exudes from IIA’s staff as they speak of their people and projects. It’s clear, they love what they do.
“There’s just so much opportunity here,” Wuscher said of the organization.
Currently they’re rebuilding the immigration department and now have immigration attorneys.
“We’re building a very strong immigration law practice,” Wuscher said proudly.
And it’s greatly needed, as refugee resettlement grows.
About 300 refugees came to live here about four years ago, and last year it was around 615.
“We saw the number going up greatly and had to make changes to adapt,” Wuscher said.
They’ve also created a much needed community outreach coordinator position and are very intentional about being out in the community.
“In the past we’d done speeches and things but now it’s more the angle of giving tours of the neighborhood, highlighting the ethnically owned businesses in the neighborhood, getting the research out there of the economic development advantages of immigrants coming in and staying in Akron and things like that,” Wuscher said.
“We’re building bridges and partnerships in places we never had before,” she continued.
North Hill Community Leaders
IIA is also a big part of the North Hill Community Leaders group which started gathering about a year ago.
“It’s people who work here, live here and own businesses. We made an asset map of the neighborhood, getting people’s feedback of what would be good and started doing tours of the neighborhood,” Wuscher explained.
They began organizing these ideas and efforts and then Better Block came along at just the right time to display all that they’d been working on.
A Benefit to All
“As someone who’s lived abroad and wanted a very international experience in my own country and then coming back and not really knowing much about organizations that really help immigrants and refugees I think the Refugee Resettlement Program is one of the best programs that the United States offers to provide refugees a new place to live and start a new life. It’s a great humanitarian effort,” Wuscher said.
“A humanitarian effort that really benefits the U.S. more than people realize. Fifty percent of it is a humanitarian effort but there’s also a very practical, economic development focus to it so it’s really a win -win situation for everyone,” she continued.
“It benefits both immigrants and refugees coming in and our own neighborhood and community,” Maria Mancinelli, Community Outreach Coordinator, agreed.
Community Outreach Coordinator
Relating to the Refugees
After graduating college Mancinelli stayed in Brazil for 2 years studying a foreign language at a university there, which has given her an understanding towards those entering our country.
Wuscher’s career began as a Peace Core volunteer in Kenya. Eight years later she did graduate school work in Mozambique, then lived in Taiwan for 3 years where she adopted her Taiwanese daughter.
“I hung up my jet setting hat for a while – raising my daughter here where I grew up, so I’m happy to be a part of the IIA because I love being back here. But not being around some sort of international people, focus and language was definitely a big hole in my heart so it’s been ideal – it put some missing parts back in my life,” Wuscher shared.
“Day to day there are so many things going on here. Very cool things,” Mancinelli said of the IIA.
If you’d like to take a tour or find out more information on everything that’s going on and how you can get involved please visit: www.iiakron.org .