Toledo is home to people from many different cultures, who are here due to different circumstances. In this region, there is a large community of refugees, or people who have been forced to flee their country because of persecution, war or violence, present.
According to data from Welcome TLC, in 2017 there were 10,296 immigrants living in the city of Toledo, and 6.9 percent of the city’s foreign born population were likely refugees. An Immigrant is an individual who leaves one’s country to settle in another, whereas refugees are defined as persons, who move out of one’s country due to restriction or danger to their lives. A number of community organizations have stepped up to welcome newcomers to Toledo, often powered by a small, dedicated staff, with donations of money or time from volunteers.
Water for Ishmael is a faith-based organization that began 15 years ago by offering English classes around a dining room table. The organization has evolved into a multi-pronged effort to welcome immigrants to Toledo, now offering English classes, conversation partners, after-school tutoring and a preschool for immigrant children. Water for Ishmael is a designated Private Sponsor Organization with the governmental initiative Welcome Corps, and they work with volunteer groups who sponsor refugees. These groups help refugees through every step of the process, including securing housing, jobs, government benefits and schools for their children upon arrival, through self-sufficiency in their new homes. Water for Ishmael is happy to work with new groups who are interested in becoming sponsors. A large volunteer need is providing transportation to and from English classes. As of 2022, their services reached 166 clients from 20 different countries.
SSFAC specifically serves low income, limited English speaking Arab immigrant and refugee families in the Greater Toledo Area. Founded in 2011 by Shane and Lona Lakatos, after their informal assistance to Arab-speaking immigrants had spread by word of mouth for several years. They recognized that even though Lucas County is home to the largest Arab community per capita in the state of Ohio, prior to SSFAC, there was no organization dedicated to helping this population. Since 2011, the organization has served more than 2,800 people through a variety of services including child and family welfare, interpretation, employment, health, emergency resources, education and citizenship. They are eager to speak to potential host families, and their other biggest volunteer needs are transportation and social integration, which involves getting together, simply having coffee or a meal, with Arab immigrant and refugee families.
Toledo Helps Ukraine was founded by Alona Matchenko, a native of Ukraine, and Hope Luther, a fellow law student at the University of Toledo, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Their main mission is to facilitate Ukranians coming to the United States through the government’s Uniting for Ukraine program, although they have also gathered donations to ship to Ukraine, engaged in advocacy work and gone on a mission trip to Ukraine. Since its beginning, Toledo Helps Ukraine has assisted 59 individuals in leaving Ukraine to come to the United States. They still receive several applications each day from Ukrainian families. Matchenko said the organization could assist even more individuals if they had greater financial assistance and volunteers to help process applications from Ukrainian families. In addition to those volunteer needs, people who are interested in becoming a petitioner – someone who files the paperwork to invite a Ukrainian family to the United States – or a host family for Ukranians can apply through the Toledo Helps Ukraine website, 4ua.org.
US Together is a mutual assistance organization, meaning it is run by refugees with the mission of helping other refugees. Founded in 2003 to help refugees in central Ohio, it has since expanded to three offices, including one in Toledo, which opened in 2013. In Toledo, the group’s services include a fast-track employment program, a Refugee Women Empowerment and Employment program and a 12 week Refugee Microenterprise and Development program.
Welcome TLC is a cross-sector network of community partners founded in 2014 with resolutions of support from the Toledo City Council and the Lucas County Commissioners. Housed at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library as a part of their New American Services, its mission is to build a more welcoming and inclusive community for immigrants and refugees. They host cultural events such as the Immigrant Heritage Month Storytelling Series, and have compiled documents to assist community organizations in working with immigrants, such as a data report summarizing the demographic and economic contributions of immigrants and refugees in Toledo-Lucas County, as well as a hiring guide for local businesses. Through their work, Lucas County and the City of Toledo became the first city and county, nationally, to earn the status of Certified Welcoming for immigrants, new Americans and refugees by Welcoming America, a nonprofit championing inclusive communities.