Building a city of neighbors in Cleveland Heights

Simeon Ogonda (left) with UST volunteer Chris Vilevac, who is serving as Ogonda's "community mentor" during his stay in Cleveland Heights.

Welcoming Heights is a new initiative aimed at creating a “city of neighbors” in Cleveland Heights through activities and services that promote a welcoming environment for immigrants who have made the city their home. The initiative is based in the beliefs that all humanity is connected and that people discover their humanity by sharing their unique experiences with others.

The initiative is part of an effort to assist members of the immigrant and refugee community to integrate into life in Cleveland Heights and Greater Cleveland, and also to enrich the entire community through activities in which all residents are welcome to participate. On Sept. 9, in the first of a series of meetings regarding the project, participants endorsed the ideas of establishing a “welcoming hub” in a Cleveland Heights library and possibly setting up a Welcome Wagon for new immigrants and refugees living in the community.

The welcoming hub would enable refugees to get information on various subjects and referrals to available services. The hub would also provide a place for refugees and longtime residents of Cleveland Heights to find out more about one another, through the telling of personal stories and other informal interactions or organized activities. Speaking through an interpreter, refugee Mazin Abdulhussin noted that, “There are some refugees who come to the U.S. with skills that could help the community. For example, some of us know how to fix houses, so if we had the opportunity to get an old, cheap house we could fix it and live in it."

Organizations represented at the meeting included Us Together (UST), which convened and hosted the meeting, Heights Libraries, the CH-UH City School District, Global Cleveland, Reaching Heights and FutureHeights. Interested community members were also present. A committee is forming to coordinate the initiative’s work and establish a connection with city government.

Anyone who would like additional information or who would be interested in attending the next Welcoming Heights meeting should e-mail

UST is a nonprofit refugee resettlement agency that assists newly arrived refugees and asylees to settle in new homes, attain social services and find employment in order to become self-sufficient. UST has worked in and around Cleveland Heights since 2007 with clients from many countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Bhutan, Iraq, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Simeon Ogonda

Simeon Oganda, a fellow in the Community Solutions Program of the State Department’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs, will be in town for several months to spearhead the Welcoming Heights program. 

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Volume 7, Issue 10, Posted 2:50 PM, 09.29.2014