A look back at 2015 — Initiatives to welcome the stranger
A theme connecting many of the programs and initiatives is “Welcoming the Stranger.” Almost all of the world’s religions command believers to treat newcomers, immigrants and refugees with love and generosity. CIC’s programs include the Immigrants & Refugee Service Corps (an AmeriCorps program), work on nutrition and wellness with African women, befriending with Congolese refugees, and efforts to extend health services to groups such as Bangladeshi Hoosiers.
CIC's programs to support and learn from newcomers
Immigrant & Refugee Service Corps
CIC’s AmeriCorps program, the Immigrant & Refugee Service Corps, cultivates community support to increase services, build capacity and strengthen the network of service providers who are addressing the needs of our immigrant and refugee population. IRSC AmeriCorps Members specifically focus on developing and disseminating information that provides immigrant and refugee families with better access to healthcare and wellness services. Our philosophy is based on learning from and educating the broader community about immigrant and refugee experiences.
In 2015-2016, 16 IRSC members are serving at these host sites:
- Tendayi Bwititi — Faith Health Initiative
- Jacqui Langer — Cancer Support Community
- Ashton DeHahn — Exodus Refugee Immigration
- Matthew Ralls — Community Health Network
- May Gonzalez — Nueva Creación
- Erin Tock — NAMI Indiana
- Dulce Santiago — Latino Health Organization
- Samantha Tooley — La Plaza
- Ally Mulumba — Catholic Charities
- Eduardo Luna — Big Car
- Chantel Massey — Peace Learning Center
- Lauren Morgan — Jewish Family Services
- Damaris Franco — Christian Theological Seminary
- Nicholas Gilmore — Felege Hiywot Center
- Ali Shafie — Faith Health Initiative
- Sena Ojo — Iglesia Nueva Creación
All-IN at Monument Circle
On September 18 CIC’s Immigrant & Refugee Service Corps organized a big party for immigrant Indy. People of all faiths and nationalities gathered around Monument Circle to celebrate Indianapolis as a welcoming and diverse city with music, food, prizes and more! Sponsored by the Indiana Humanities Council, the ALL-IN Block Party was presented by the Immigrant Welcome Center and many community partners, including: Big Car, Eli Lilly Company, IUPUI, Indianapolis Public Library, and NAMI Indiana.
East African women’s exercise program
CIC’s Megan Nibert has taken the lead on working with women fro East Africa and Indiana to improve the quality of their lives.
As an intern for CIC this year, one of my assignments has been to help the Woman’s Exercise and Nutrition Initiative. As a former student athlete this is close to my heart and something I wanted to help successfully start, and to participate in as well. The initiative began with an idea that Mastora Bakhiet, founder of the Darfur Woman’s Network, had to help her community. She knew of many immigrant and refugee women who don’t know how to exercise or eat healthy in America. The majority of the women cannot work out at a gym because of modesty concerns and need an all-woman area to work out. Mastora came to the Center for Interfaith Cooperation with an idea to start this workout and nutrition group and our office quickly jumped on board to figure out how to make this idea work.
Things quickly began to fall into place. The Interchurch Center has an all but forgotten fitness room, so they had a place to work out when the program began. About a month ago, the women started coming two times a week (Mondays and Wednesdays).
I love that I have been given the opportunity to work with and help these women. I now workout with them on Wednesdays and it is very rewarding. It is fun. We push each other and help each other. Coming from a team atmosphere of college sports, I recognize the importance of working out as a group. It gives you not only someone who holds you accountable, but also a friend who shares in your post workout soreness or even your pre workout hesitance on those days you are less than motivated. I am very happy that I had the chance to help this group start up recognizing that a healthy lifestyle will not just help these women but will also benefit their families.
Congolese support initiative
One of the exciting initiatives that the Center for Interfaith Cooperation is proud to support is Kizito Kalima’s outreach to newly arrived Congolese refugees resettling in Indianapolis. They meet with volunteers every Saturday to practice English, learn about Hoosier culture, and teach us about their culture.
African-Midwestern nutrition & wellness
Megan Nibert explains how the Women’s nutrition program emerged from the exercise initiative.
The only major roadblock was in the nutrition part of the program. Mastora and her team wanted a kitchen so they could practice cooking healthy, but the Interchurch Center does not have a full kitchen. When the program began they were able to work around the lack of kitchen by simply talking about healthy foods and ways to change their diets … but there was still a need for a kitchen.
I began looking for areas nearby that had kitchens that may be willing to let the women come there to cook once a week. I contacted Fairview Presbyterian and met with one of the pastors at the church. They were excited about the program, showed me the kitchen, and told me the options and the process of getting the program started there. They began to get the ball rolling on their end and I got in touch with everyone on my end. After getting it approved on both sides, Mastora, her team, and my boss Charlie Wiles, went over to look at the kitchen and hash out the final details. The meeting went really well and not only do the women cook there on Mondays; they will also use another room to do workouts on Mondays. Wednesdays they will continue coming to the Interchurch Center and focus on the exercise part of the program.
Bangladeshi American health fair
May 2nd, the Center for Interfaith Cooperation hosted a Health Fair for the Bangladeshi American Alliance at the Indiana Interchurch Center. Nearly a hundred people came — kids, parents, grandparents — to learn more about healthcare options, to consult privately with Bangla-speaking physicians (who came to the event from around the state) … and to enjoy a glorious spring day with families and friends. It was one of the most colorful Saturdays at the Interchurch Center in quite a while.
Events like this are important for the Immigrant & Refugee Service Corps, the AmeriCorps program CIC manages. The primary emphasis of the IRSC is to extend healthcare to under-served newcomer populations in Central Indiana. The BAA’s Health Fair showed how important this can be. It was a chance for newcomers who are in many cases unfamiliar with American laws and practices to receive advice and screening from doctors who speak their language and understand their culture.