What began in the fall of 2019 as a meeting to facilitate introductions within a community of immigrant and refugee service providers evolved into a healthy collaboration of organizations that work together to support people who leave their homes abroad and resettle in the Akron community.
“The role that we play at GAR, as a funder in support of our grantee partners’ work, affords us a unique vantage point,” noted Rob Lehr, Senior Program Officer at GAR Foundation. “As we talked to individual grantee partners who serve resettled individuals and families in Northeast Ohio, we realized that bringing together the community of cross-sector service providers could be beneficial. Once the community green-lighted the idea, we invited Heart to Heart Leadership to facilitate a conversation using its Appreciative Inquiry process. The first meeting began with a simple exercise. Each organization shared what was going well and what could be improved.”
Following the meeting, survey results from participants showed the value the group saw in coming together with the support of Heart to Heart Leadership. This began a journey that set the stage for the group collaborating on everything from basic needs like food, clothing, housing and transportation to pandemic support, census participation, employment, healthcare, school enrollment, and pathways to citizenship. Rob continued, “Many important things happened as a result of the relationships that grew out of that first meeting in 2019.”
“We apply a systems lens to our work,” said Christine Mayer, President of GAR Foundation. “Building a coalition of grantees focused on supporting a similar goal or community is fundamental to leveraging community assets and making a long-term impact. As we support our grantees and the phenomenal work they’re doing individually, we continue to look for opportunities where synergies exist and where making connections between grantee partners can make a difference. As is the case in this instance, we’ve seen greater success when local organizations partner.”
During GAR’s 4th quarter of 2021 grant awards, two anchor organizations serving the sector with long histories and a broad spectrum of services were awarded funding to help Afghan refugees resettle and navigate U.S. legal services. International Institute of Akron (IIA) was awarded $70,000, and Asian Services in Action (ASIA, Inc.) was awarded $20,000 for Afghan humanitarian support.
IIA, the only resettlement agency in the area, provides support for a refugee’s first 90 days in the community, then ASIA, Inc. partners with IIA to provide additional supportive services. Grassroots organizations like Global Ties and North Akron CDC offer complementary services. Partner organizations such as Community Legal Aid, St. Bernard Parish, Project Learn, Akron Public Schools, and Summit County Prosecutor’s Office help bring solutions and insights to the service providers group. After several discussions, joint events, and meetings, more than 28 service providers are still working together to support the acclimation of Akron’s newest global residents.
With GAR’s support, Jeremy Lile, Executive Director, Heart to Heart Leadership, and Liz Blystone, In Sight Consulting, lead the consulting work for relationship building amongst the sector. When asked about their work, Jeremy shared, “Our new neighbors bring a wealth of knowledge and opportunity to our community. Their stories are incredible stories of resilience and perseverance. Their presence represents a real opportunity for cultural immersion and an opportunity to gain a broader view of the world.” Liz added, “We started our engagement with a plan to lead the group through an appreciative inquiry process to help spur new connections and deeper collaboration within the groups. As the societal landscape changed in early 2020, we quickly pivoted to collaborating in a crisis management mode, which helped the team see the opportunity for more strategic planning. It was beneficial that the group was already convening before the pandemic as it allowed the network to lean on each other and get to more substantial outcomes faster.”
The group is now called the Greater Akron Immigrant and Refugee Service Providers (GAIRSP). By setting up an Executive Committee, an official charter, and a commitment to work together, they are well-positioned to meet today’s challenges collaboratively. GAR continues to support the initiative to help ensure that individuals and families have access to what they need to thrive.