By Brittany Ford, Peter Ujvagi, Sarah Allan, & Melissa Bertolo
Brittany Ford is the Executive Assistant to Commissioner Pete Gerken, Board of Lucas County Commissioners. Peter Ujvagi is the Chief of Public Policy and Legislative Affairs, Board of Lucas County Commissioners. Sarah Allan is the AmeriCorps Member for the Welcome Toledo-Lucas County Initiative, Board of Lucas County Commissioners. Melissa Bertolo is the Program Coordinator for Welcome Dayton.
On Friday, July 18, 2014, representatives from the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, Lucas County Land Bank, City of Toledo Board of Community Relations, Lucas County Sheriff’s Office, and Toledo Public Schools traveled to Dayton to learn about the city’s immigrant-friendly initiative, Welcome Dayton. The Welcome Toledo-Lucas County initiative, though still in development, has spent nearly a year strategically engaging and addressing the existing needs of our local community. As we prepare to roll out an initiative in Toledo-Lucas County, we were fortunate to be able to explore the Welcome Dayton model.
Welcome Dayton Coordinator Melissa Bertolo organized an action-packed day for Toledo-Lucas County with meetings, neighborhood tours, and local dining favorites! Melissa and Catherine Crosby, Executive Director of the Human Relations Council (HRC), welcomed us bright and early and introduced to the Welcome Dayton’s history and mission to keep peace, order, and harmony, promote tolerance and goodwill, and ensure equal treatment and opportunity for the citizens of Dayton.
Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Lori Ward facilitated a dialogue with several key staff involved with Welcome Dayton. With over 750 English Language Learners (ELL) speaking over 30 languages from more than 40 countries, DPS has developed and implemented immigrant-friendly policies and programs across the city. Neighborhood School Centers, the Welcome Centers, and the ELL Program create community supports, introduce immigrants to American culture, provide ELL instruction, and ensure student and family achievement.
Melissa had us on the move again, this time to Linh’s Bistro and Restaurant for lunch with City Commissioner Matt Joseph, who was an integral part of developing and launching Welcome Dayton, and now serves as the Chair of the Welcome Dayton Core Committee. We even got a little publicity from the local news.
Before heading to our next meeting, Melissa led us on a tour of Old North Dayton, an area that has been revitalized as Ahisha Turks have settled in the neighborhood. Our tour ended at Catholic Social Services for a law enforcement conversation with Dayton Chief of Police, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) attorneys, and the Montgomery County Criminal Justice Director. They discussed how law enforcement has worked to create a more immigrant-friendly city, including policy revisions in the Dayton Police Department, community education, and language access, as well as outreach to other law enforcement agencies in Montgomery County to ensure consistent immigrant-friendly policy across the region.
Finally the day ended, with a conversation with members of the Welcome Dayton Committee who provided an inside look at their progress and plans, including their work through various subcommittees. We were particularly interested in the Health and Social Services Subcommittee’s discussion of starting an ambassadors program to help newly settled immigrants and refugees access comprehensive services, as well as the Community, Culture, and Arts Subcommittee’s summary of their draft of a “Tip Sheet” of cultural competency best practice guidelines for engaging with culturally and linguistically diverse communities in special events and celebrations.
Thank you to all of those from Dayton who shared so much of their time and insight with us. We appreciate and look forward to a continued partnership with Welcome Dayton!