Refugees find welcome at Noble library
On a cold, snowy evening in February, the Noble Neighborhood Library’s teen room was filled with Bhutanese refugees eager to learn conversational English. Kathleen Scully, an English Language Learner (ELL) instructor with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District and a volunteer with the Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland, led the informal workshop. Asmita Samal, a student at Heights High and a member of the Bhutanese community, served as an unofficial interpreter for Scully.
The workshop was one of many activities that take place at the Welcoming Heights Initiative's Welcome Hub at the Noble library. The hub, which operates on Tuesday evenings, 6–8 p.m., was established in the fall of 2014 as a place where refugees can feel welcome and find information to help them resettle and acclimate to their new home. Volunteers staff a table with literature from partner agencies and other agencies of interest to the refugee population, and offer direct services like English lessons.
“Having a regularly available center for distribution of information and help accessing available public services to those new in the community is a must for helping new residents adapt positively and take advantage of all the resources this city has to offer,” said Scully.
The library's involvement in the Welcome Hub began when Simeon Ogonda, a State Department fellow working with the resettlement agency US Together, contacted Heights Libraries. The Welcome Hub is Ogonda's brainchild, and its mission is to connect immigrants and refugees to resources in the community and to make them feel welcome. It is an effort of US Together, Global Cleveland, the City of Cleveland Heights, the CH-UH City School District, and Heights Libraries, which together form the Welcoming Heights Initiative.
“We see many Nepalese families who are refugees from Bhutan,” said Constance Dickerson, branch manager at the Noble library. "They were deported when the Bhutanese government began efforts to retain Bhutanese cultural identity. Many in our neighborhood lived in refugee camps in Nepal before immigrating to the United States.”
Global Cleveland and US Together chose the Noble Neighborhood Library as the location for its Welcome Hub due to its proximity to the neighborhood's Bhutanese immigrant population and its established reputation as a place where all are welcome and resources are free and plentiful.
“Information is our business, so we are a natural go-to resource,” said Dickerson. “Hosting the Welcome Hub has helped immigrants and refugees see our role in the community. Through the hub and other efforts by library staff, this particular population now sees the library as their place, a community place.”
Sheryl Banks is the marketing and community relations manager for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library.