Voices of North Hill: The North Hill Listening Project


IIA's mission of serving refugees and immigrants in Akron would not be possible without the support of our community. As such, promoting public awareness of the value of ethnic diversity and facilitating international communication is essential. 

Over the past six months, 48 interviews were conducted with residents of North Hill. They discussed with researchers the things they love about living in a culturally diverse neighborhood. Among other things, the final report of research findings concluded that residents "wanted a way to start breaking down barriers … the importance of community and the vision of neighbors-helping-neighbors carried through.”

The Akron Beacon Journal wrote an article on the Listening Project, which you can find here.  The full report including methodology, demographics, and findings is available here




Immigration Justice Campaign and International Institute of Akron Announce New Partnership


Akron, OH – The Immigration Justice Campaign (Justice Campaign), a joint initiative between the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the American Immigration Council (Council), and the International Institute of Akron (IIA) have partnered to fight for due process and justice for detained immigrants in Ohio. By training a network of pro bono partners and empowering volunteer attorneys with trainings and resources, IIA and the Justice Campaign will work together to protect the rights of detained immigrants to have access to counsel and a fair day in court.

The International Institute of Akron (IIA) is one of the largest nonprofit immigration legal service providers in Ohio. It has added a fourth immigration and human rights attorney, Brian J. Hoffman, to its legal team to serve as the Immigration Justice Campaign Pro Bono Coordinator. As Pro Bono Coordinator, Hoffman will work to match volunteers with cases and flag advocacy concerns for the national Justice Campaign staff. IIA joins the Justice Campaign’s six partners across the country, including the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in New Jersey, the Dilley Pro Bono Project (DPBP) and ProBar in Texas, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) in Washington, the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN) in Colorado, and the Southern Policy Law Center’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) in Georgia.

Madhu Sharma, AILA attorney and acting Executive Director at the International Institute of Akron, said, “The Immigration Justice Campaign’s mission to fight for every immigrant’s right to a fair day in court is central to our work in Ohio. This partnership, as well as the addition of Brian Hoffman to our legal team will increase access to counsel for Ohio’s detained immigrants in an era of ramped up and indiscriminate enforcement measures. We are excited to work together for due process and fundamental fairness for immigrants in removal proceedings.”

Learn more about the Justice Campaign at www.immigrationjustice.us.

Listening Project


The North Hill Listening Project is one of the IIA’s most recent projects to address “Multi-Ethnic Conflict” in our community.  At the IIA, we will always see diversity as a strength, but sharing the gifts of our differences does not always come easily. All over the country, people are feeling the impacts of fear and division, and they have not been missed by the communities that we serve, nor are they new to many of Akron’s residents. However, we have also seen the power of neighbors reaching out to one another. We’ve heard countless stories from community members who have found friends in their international carpools, who have made visits to newly arrived neighbors to later find hot meals brought to their door, and who have learned new recipes and new dances from the same people they trust to watch their homes when they are away. We began addressing multi-ethnic conflict because we know that a welcoming community starts with welcoming neighbors.

To transform conflict into neighborhood connections, the IIA is taking direction from the people of North Hill through the North Hill Listening Project. Listening Projects have long been used to understand communities’ concerns and bridge divides. Rural Southern Voices for Peace (RSVP) began using Listening Projects in 1981 to address racial tensions in North Carolina and has since championed the use of Listening Project across the United States and internationally. The North Hill Listening Project is based on the work of RSVP and seeks to create a platform for the members of the North Hill community to have their voices heard and honored.


On January 20th, 2018, the IIA and its partners held a training for “Listeners,” community members and stakeholders who will go out to interview North Hill residents about their experiences with multi-ethnic conflict. Twenty-four Listeners will conduct approximately fifty interviews from residents of all different backgrounds by mid-March of 2018. Following the interviews, participants’ answers will be processed and the findings shared among North Hill’s residents and stakeholders and incorporated into the IIA’s Conflict Management Strategy. The Listeners will ask questions about participants’ relationships with people of other backgrounds and what they need to create a more welcoming North Hill. By the end of the project, the IIA hopes to have a clear path for how multi-ethnic conflict can be resolved and new, stronger relationships created though the work of community members and IIA’s programs.



The North Hill Listening Project is overseen by Susan Berg-Herman, Director of New Initiatives at the IIA, and is led Liz Schmidt, IIA Consultant, Akronite Jacquelyn Bleak, M.S. Conflict Analysis and Resolution, and IIA interns Amanda Schwaben, Jenna Lada, M.S. Conflict and Dispute Resolution. Special thanks go to Jacquelyn Bleak, Joseph Bocchicchio, and Patricia Wyatt for their instrumental roles in the Listener Training, as well as Akron-Summit County Public Library North Hill Branch.

Any questions about the North Hill Listening Project or interview recommendations can be sent to lizschmidt379@yahoo.com.

We are proud to work in such a diverse community as to provide a platform for members of North Hill to share their experiences with the world. To show your support, please click the button below.

Human Trafficking

January is Human Trafficking Awareness month.  The International Institute of Akron works with survivors of human trafficking and values creating awareness to protect vulnerable individuals around the world, including here in Northeast Ohio.


As defined by National Human Trafficking Hotline, human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will.

While many Ohioans view Human Trafficking as something that happens outside the U.S. or only in major cities, the reality is that Ohio is ranked fourth in the country for number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. The Columbus Dispatch reported 375 cases of human trafficking in 2016, up from 289 in 2015.  Additionally, many cases of human trafficking are go unreported due to fear of retribution or lack of legal status in the U.S.

On a more local level, the Summit County Collaborative Against Human Trafficking conducted an investigation from December 2014 to March 2015 on Human Trafficking in and around Summit County.  By reading ads on the Craigslist-like website Backpage in the Akron/Canton section they found that Fairlawn and East Avenue in Akron ranked as two of the top locations in which sex-trafficking ads were posted. Most locations were near major highways with hotel and motels surrounding them.

Immigrant women and children are the most susceptible to human trafficking. According to an article posted by the ACLU, U.S. victims of trafficking are almost exclusively immigrants, and mostly immigrant women.  Lower levels of education, inability to speak English, immigration status, and lack of familiarity with U.S. employment protections makes them more vulnerable to the deceptiveness of traffickers.

There are many signs to tell if someone is a victim of human trafficking, including, but not limited to: excessively long/unusual hours spent at work, anxiousness or depression, malnourishment, and few or no personal possessions.

“When host countries buckle under the strain of a migration crisis, migrants are forced to rely on smugglers, treacherous routes, and impossible border crossings in a continual search for protection. This creates a greenhouse effect where human traffickers use coercive recruitment tactics such as fraudulent job offers, shelter, or education which seem extremely appealing to vulnerable immigrants in the absence of durable solutions. IIA is vigilant in detecting and serving those who fall prey to such tactics, and during Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we honor the survivors for their courage and resilience.” -- Madhu Sharma, Acting Director and Director of Immigration Services at the International Institute of Akron.

IIA provides immigration legal services to survivors of human trafficking. In support of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we honor the survivors and their courage seek to help. For more information or for a consultation, visit https://www.iiakron.org/immigration.  To support IIA in providing legal services for survivors of human trafficking, donate today by clicking the box above. 

Elaine Woloshyn

Elaine-Woloshyn Head shot.jpg

It is with deep sadness that we share the announcement of the passing of Elaine Woloshyn, Executive Director of the International Institute. Elaine lost her brief, but brave battle with cancer on the morning of December 25, 2017.   

Elaine will be truly missed by the Board, Staff, Clients, and many supporters of the International Institute. In her tenure leading the IIA, she made a lasting mark on the organization, helping modernize and expand the work of the agency in many ways. She spoke often of her own immigrant story, and the deep love and respect she had for her grandparents, who immigrated from Ukraine. Her giving spirit and dedication to the cause of supporting new Americans was a living honor to her family roots and tradition.  

“We cannot express in words what this loss means to the agency, and all of the IIA family. Elaine was truly a pillar in the nonprofit community. We mourn with her family and send our deepest condolences to all who loved her” said Madhu Sharma, Acting Executive Director.  
"Elaine was a passionate advocate for Akron's immigrant and refugee communities.  We are grateful for her service and the legacy she leaves in her strong staff and the community relationships she championed. We extend our deepest sympathies to her family and friends" said Karen Richter, President of the Board of Directors.

Elaine M. Woloshyn, age 65, passed away December 25, 2017. Beloved wife of Richard Stahl; sister of Evonne of Chicago, IL, and Gene of Naples FL; dear aunt of Andrew of Tallahassee, FL and Alex of New York NY; loving cousin of Taras Szmagala. Elaine was Executive Director of the International Institute in Akron, OH. Her passions were many, from her life-long work in public service to her commitment to animal rescue and her dedication to her alma mater, Thiel College. The family suggests contributions to Thiel College in Greenville, PA. Friends may call at THE KOLODIY-LAZUTA FUNERAL HOME, 5677 STATE RD., PARMA, THURSDAY 48 P.M. PARASTAS 6:30 P.M. Prayer Service at the funeral home Friday, December 29 at 10:30 a.m. followed by the Funeral Liturgy at St. Andrew Ukrainian Catholic Church at 11 a.m. Interment St. Andrew Cemetery.  

Celebrating Diwali

South Asian cultures celebrate Diwali in different ways. 

Diwali, or “the festival of lights”, is a Hindi holiday which, at its core is a blessing between brother and sister, and a prayer that God will defeat the Demon. The whole family celebrates and prays over 5 days with intention. 

This is how many celebrated Diwali this year in North Hill:

Day 1  Prayer for the Crow which can bring messages, providing good or bad news.

Day 2 Worship of the Dog – a family friend, a safeguard for the family, and can send notice when something is coming.

Day 3 Celebration Day (Deepwali) – where the family prays for Goddess Laxmi, who is a symbol of wealth and prosperity. On this night the family lights candles which burn the whole night to welcome her. The families also worship the cow, which is sacred in the Hindi religion.

The family groups also travel from house to house dancing and singing Deusi (typically sung by boys) and Vaili (typically sung by girls). When the group arrives at a house, they sing that God will bless the family and pray that God has victory over the Demon. Each family offers the visitors gifts and food. This celebration and prayers continues for the next 2 days.

Day 4 Prayer and worship of the Ox or Cow. The Ox is important, as it is used to plow the field, providing the opportunity to grow crops. On this day, a house is built by Lord Krishna as a sanctuary to protect from the Demon.

Day 5 The brother and sister come together and share a gift.  Everyone comes together in one home where they celebrate over a meal and a prayer for long life, shared by the whole family. They also wear beautiful Tika that are white, green, and yellow. 

At IIA, we work to promote public awareness of the value of ethnic diversity, to encourage international communication. We celebrate diversity and culture, and hope by providing information on how our neighbors pray, you feel inspired to embrace differences within our community.

Welcoming Plan


Akron, Ohio, October, 12, 2017—Today, the City of Akron and the County of Summit released Phase I of their Strategic Welcome Plan. This document is the culmination of sixteen months of work by the City of Akron, the County of Summit, Asian Services in Action (ASIA Inc.), Global Ties Akron and the International Institute of Akron (IIA). The Strategic Welcome Plan outlines the vision, goals and strategies to move the city and county in a direction that maximizes the opportunity to grow in population, diversity, and opportunity, and be a welcoming community for all.

Communities across the country are constantly competing to attract the residents and workers that will allow them to thrive in a global economy.  Newcomers play an important role in growing our population, supporting our workforce, diversifying the academic environment at our local universities, and starting small businesses that create jobs – all drivers of economic prosperity.

“Welcoming” aims to develop a true respect and appreciation for our neighbors, creating policies and programs that support inclusion, and making sure that everyone – newcomers and longtime residents alike – feel they belong and have the tools they need to succeed.

The Welcoming effort began in 2015 when Akron City Council and Summit County Council passed resolutions proclaiming this to be a welcoming community.  Shortly after, IIA applied for a competitive award to support the development of a welcoming plan through Welcoming America and New American Economy’s Gateways for Growth Challenge.  Mayor Horrigan and the late County Executive Russ Pry agreed to co-chair the Welcoming effort.  In March of 2016, Akron/Summit County was chosen as one of 20 communities to receive the Gateways for Growth award and one of only five communities across the United States to receive a $12,500 matching grant.  The City of Akron, County of Summit, Akron Community Foundation and Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation all came together to contribute the required $12,500 matching funds.

Receiving the Gateways for Growth Challenge award – including tailored research on the economic contributions of New Americans in Akron and Summit County, technical assistance from Welcoming America and New American Economy, and a matching grant – enabled our city and county to create this first ever community Strategic Welcome Plan.

“Our foreign born population has proven to be an economic driver for our region,” said Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro. “Whether it is through in increase in small business ownership, adding to the workforce, or increasing homeownership rates, Summit County has seen the benefits of being a Welcoming community.”

The four goals outlined in the Strategic Welcoming Plan include:

  1. Enhance the network of public and private partners that serve and empower New Americans to facilitate their integration into the Akron community.
  2. Adopt initiatives and policies in public and private institutions that are delivered in a way that allows for equitable participation and in a way that is respectful of the religion, culture, race, ethnicity, physical and mental ability, age and sexual orientation of members of both immigrant and receiving communities.
  3. Empower and guide new Americans through identified ethnic community leaders, to understand and navigate public and private service systems.
  4. Increase cultural and linguistic accessibility to all community and government services.

A proud partner in this effort, Mayor Horrigan added, “This strategic plan is important work in truly promoting our community as welcoming. Being welcoming goes beyond a simple willingness to do so—it takes a concentrated and coordinated effort to advance community communication, education and access to services for both new and longtime Americans. This plan is the first step in organizing partners and government agencies to factor inclusion and welcoming into their daily work.”

“We are a small, big town where entire families can thrive socially and economically in a neighborly environment,” Elaine Woloshyn, executive director of the International Institute of Akron said of why immigrants and refugees are choosing to settle in Akron and Summit County.

Phase II, as described in this initial plan, will quickly move forward in November 2017.  This next phase will replicate the existing Refugee Health Task Force hosted by the Summit County Department of Public Health across five other sectors.  Over the course of the next year, each sector will create a list of objectives and tasks and a work plan to implement moving forward as it relates to the vision, goals and strategies outlined in the written Akron/Summit County Strategic Welcome plan, available here.

Officer Kevin Evans


Article by: Vedad Ghavanini

I met officer Evans in his office at Akron North High School where for the past few years he has been the School Resource Officer during which he has been working with the International Institute of Akron (the IIA) as the Cultural Outreach Officer. His effort is to help the international students build a strong relationship within the school, the community, and the city of Akron.

The Akron North High School has over 800 students enrolled. 250-300 of these students are English as a Second Language (ESL) kids who are mainly refugees with only a small number as immigrants. This counts to about one third of the school population. For Officer Evans the biggest challenge is the language barrier. Although most of the students become completely fluent in English within a few years, the first year proves difficult. Fear of inability to communicate keeps the kids from coming to him with their problems but once the language barrier is lifted they are more comfortable seeking his guidance. Meanwhile officer Evans gets help from one of the more fluent kids to get his word across to others.
During one summer, Officer Evan worked on assignment in North Akron to develop relationship within the refugee community and the city of Akron and its residents, working closely with the churches, businesses, and variety of groups to make refugees feel like a citizen and part of the community and also to raise awareness within the Akron community. Officer Evans spent his days riding along with an interpreter through the refugee neighborhoods visiting families and businesses. The children got so familiar with his cruiser that he became sort of an ice cream man. When he would pull into the neighborhoods the kids would come running and officer Evans always had stickers and coloring books for them. His main challenge was to gain adults’ trust. The refugees come from a place where they have, most of their lives, run away from men in uniform and are fearful and untrustworthy of them. For them seeing a cruiser pull in was not so much of a joyful sight and they wouldn’t approach. Children don’t remember so much of what happened prior to them coming here so they are not fearful. One of officer Evan’s goals was to make adults understand that he is not there to abuse them rather to protect them. Now there is a new level of awareness among both adults and teenagers at school about what the police do. There is less fear and more trust. Even though the change is a slow one, it is a sure one.
Officer Evan’s has observed that it doesn’t take long for the teenagers to assimilate with the American culture. Within a year there is a shift in their wardrobe and demeanor and they become Americanized very quickly. Sometimes, to fit in, they develop some of the American ways that are not the greatest, like sagging pants and backwards hats. But the major problem, especially with the Nepalese male students, is smoking. Whether they develop the habit here or bring it with them is something to look into but it seems that smoking comes very natural to them. While possessing tobacco under the age of 18 is an arrestable offence, many of these students are already over the age of 18. Still, smoking is prohibited within the walls of school.
Another alarming issue is the percentage of refugees who continue education beyond high school. A few years ago the valedictorian at the Akron North High was a female refugee, an intelligent and driven girl who had arrived in the United States only four years prior and her inspirational speech included how she got here. However, last year many refugees were not able to pass the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT). For many of these kids, who within their culture have learned that to survive you have to make money, the focus is getting through high school and getting a job. Many of the senior students only attend school half a day while they work the other half of the day. While self-sufficiency is a great accomplishment for these individuals, they need to keep their education as their priority. The ESL program for Akron public schools is very proactive to help the kids pass their OGT test so they can apply for colleges. They create individualized classes to help each student get through the test. Recently the Rosetta Stone program has been added to help enhance students’ English language ability which will help them in their overall academic performance.
While the children become fluent in English in a short amount of time, the adults are not as eager to learn and don’t see it as a necessity. They are more used to their own culture and language and their main communication is with their own community, therefore they don’t become fluent in English as fast. This creates an environment where the kids start running the households and the parents don’t know if the information they receive from their children are always 100% truthful. They can’t trust fully what is being relayed to them by children; how school is going, where the kids are at night and what goes on in the community. They feel lost.
Once a month Officer Evans creates a power point presentation for the International Institute of Akron. The purpose of this presentation is to teach the newly arrived refugees the basics of safety and neighborhood awareness, when and how to use 911 services, how to get ID cards, learning their own address, locking their doors, and more. There will also be a section added in each presentation on driving rules and regulations including child seats, seat belts, the process of getting a drivers license, and the importance of having driving insurance.
Officer Evans will continue his position at the Akron North High School working with the ESL children. He will also continue his monthly presentations for the IIA but during summer he won’t be on community outreach program because of staffing issues at the Akron Police Department (APD). The North Hill Community is sad not to see Officer Evans around the neighborhoods. His previous efforts made so many improvements in putting a stop to theft in ethnic stores, neighborhood safety, teaching the refugee population, and raising awareness within the North Hill community of Akron. The community wrote many letters requesting him back for summer but the APD stand its position. Officer Evans hope to be able to reach out to the local communities and to help them understand where the refugees come from and what they go through before and after they get here and to raise awareness on how behind they are when they get here and the culture shock that they go through not only as a family but as a community. Without the community’s help they won’t be able to fully build a new life and adapt to it. We need to let them know we are on their side.



Article by: Vedad Ghavanini

BiBi has a big smile on her face. She is writing her name for me, one of two words she is now able to write. “ I don’t know how to write. I have never attended school in Burma. Only when I arrived here I learned how to write”, she says. BiBi is a Burmese woman who lived at Baklo refugee camp in Thailand. She describes life at camp as very difficult with too many problems only one of its hardships is finding a job. Now she is hopeful. She is studying English and counting on IIA to help her find a job.
BiBi and her youngest daughter came to the United States over 4 months ago. Because she is not educated, her immigration paperwork was prepared by others and she doesn’t know the name of the organization that helped her immigrate. She also didn’t know anything about the IIA until she arrived and saw representatives waiting for her at the airport. She happily remembers that they picked her up and took her to her doctor’s appointment and then out to get something to eat. For now BiBi has to stay with her other daughter who is already living in Akron with her two children. BiBi’s third daughter is scheduled to arrive and once she is here the three of them will have their own apartment.
BiBi is very happy with her new life and proud of her improvements. As she is learning the English language she is getting more and more excited to be able to work and provide for herself. “IIA gives me too many help”, she says and when I ask her if there is anything she would like to tell her family and friends who are still at the camp, she says “ I want to tell them to come here because International Institute is helping us.” She is hopeful for the future and very grateful for her new life and the opportunities it presents.