Community West Blog

Community West Foundation’s 2016 Annual Meeting: From Refugee to Neighbor

Posted by David T. Dombrowiak on Wed, Oct 12, 2016

CWF_President_David_Dombrowiak_rs.jpgAt the heart of every great community are nonprofits building support for our most vulnerable neighbors. It is more important than ever to welcome refugees into our hearts and communities—not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the loving, caring and compassionate thing to do.

It is our responsibility to welcome those suffering the most and when the world is in desperate need of humanitarian relief. The Community West Foundation Strategic Plan is inspired by the words and message from the Gospel of Matthew 25:40:

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

With these words in mind, in September we dedicated the Community West Foundation annual meeting to the refugees of our community, to the courageous men, women and especially children who have fled unstable homelands, uprooted by conflict, violence, persecution and fear, to find opportunity right here in Greater Cleveland.

The annual meeting also featured three men who are committed to making Greater Cleveland a place where refugees can become our neighbors: Darren Hamm is the former executive director of The Refugee Response; Tom Mrosko is director of Catholic Charities Office of Migration and Refugee Services; and Brian Upton is executive director of Building Hope in the City.

Durable Refugee Solutions

Out of the 65 million people in the world, 21 million are actually refugees. One in every 300 people in the world right now is a refugee, Tom Mrosko told those attending the meeting. When refugees leave their homeland, it can take about 15 years to go through the process to set up a new home. There are three durable solutions for refugees:

  • The first durable solution is to safely return them home where they came come. “They'd like to go home to their farms or their jobs, to their families, pick up where they left off,” Mrosko said.
  • The second solution is local integration. A refugee is forced out of their homeland to another country, the hope is that that second country will accept them and allow them to stay there with the same rights and protection that any native person of that country can have.
  • The third durable solution is a third-country settlement. “We're a third country, and neither one is more important, or better than the other, it's just an option.” Typically, 1 percent of the refugees out of that 21 million people get the chance go to a third country, and resettle indefinitely in the third country, Mrosko said. Once refugees are in the United States, they can apply for citizenship in five years.

Changing Cleveland for the Long-Haul

In his comments, Brian Upton said that a recent economic impact study showed that agencies spent $4.8 million on settled refugees, but those same refugees “returned $48 million in economic activity to our community. They rented homes, they bought goods, they paid taxes, they bought services.” For every dollar spent to bring them here, they returned $10 to the community.

“The nonprofits, the employers and the foundations that support this work are really changing Cleveland for the long haul, and in incredible ways. The study also allowed us to get some long, mis-held myths, and correct some misunderstandings about refugees,” he said.

“They are a strong, motivated group of people, not only bringing increased diversity into our community, but many of the assets that we have been lacking in our city's core—assets that were less evident when our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents lived in these very neighborhoods.”

Darren Hamm also praised refugees’ contributions to Greater Cleveland, asking for help from the community to help them more seamlessly integrate into society. “These are tremendous people. I consider them the best people in the world. But we need those friends in the community who are willing to provide transportation, are willing to advocate on behalf of our community, employment opportunities, housing options, mentorship, home tutoring, be a friend, be a good community member, and work on behalf of these great people.”

Our annual meeting also was a good opportunity to highlight other successful work at the foundation.

  • The foundation has donated more than $100,000 in cash and $200,000 in in-kind donations for the homeless as part of the SocksPlus campaign.
  • The foundation has also raised $3,850,800.90 over the past year.
  • Special events for Fairview and Lutheran Hospitals continue to attract support and raised $870,936.15.
  • The foundation gave a total of $4,631,000 in grants over the past year.
  • To support important programs, services and initiatives in our community, local nonprofits received $2,449,000; Fairview and Lutheran Hospitals received $1,241,000, and our Donor Advised Funds generated an additional $941,000.