NORTH CANTON Christina Weyrick and Joe Rozsa recently attended an information session at the International Institute of Akron (IIA) to learn more about the work the organization does for current and recent refugees who immigrated to Northeast Ohio. One of the items of interest they learned was about recent funding cuts.
Rozsa is a first-generation Hungarian-American whose parents fled Hungary as refugees in 1956. Rozsa attributes his success as an entrepreneur to the fact that his family immigrated to the United States.
Both Weyrick and Rozsa wanted to help the IIA by holding fundraising events, especially during the 120-day halt on immigration implemented by President Donald Trump’s administration. The two have three goals in mind: Share information about IIA with others, share true information about refugees and immigrants and to help raise funds.
The first event was held on May 21 in The Barrel Room in North Canton. It was called FLAVOR and it included foods from countries around the world. Persons attended paid one price for a large buffet of a variety of foods.
"We started out by hosting a Hungarian dinner party for a group of our friends who were looking for a way to help," Weyrick said "It was through that networking that Joe and I were able to start building a network of descendants of international origins to provide authentic international food tables. The result is the event we’re are holding this evening which sold out quickly."
She said that because the IIA is located in Akron, many Stark County residents are unaware of the services they provide and that the organization helps refugee resettlement in Stark as well as other areas in Northeast Ohio.
The event was held in The Barrel Room on North Main Street which was packed full of international food tables loaded with samplings from countries such as Ireland, Sri Lanka, South Korea and many others.
Liz Walters community outreach director from IIA said the organization was founded in 1916 in Akron with the help of the YMCA. She said the organization has recently received funding cuts because of President Trump’s executive order placing a hold on refugee resettlement in the U.S.
"We’ve had to make some difficult financial decisions over the past few weeks such as cutting our staff by nine people," Walters said.
"Thanks to people like Joe and Christina and their fundraising efforts, IIA continues to offer core programming such as English classes, financial literacy and to offer legal clinics to help people apply for citizenship. All of our services are offered free to foreign born persons coming to the U.S.," she said.
Walters was joined at the event by Bishnu Sunar who was a client of the IIA and now works for the IIA. He shared his story of being a refugee for 23 years and fleeing his country of Bhutan.
"When I landed at the Akron-Canton airport there was a case manager from the IIA there to welcome me," Sunar said.
"The Institute helped me adjust to the culture and with everyday things like taking the bus or visiting the library. I started working in a manufacturing when I arrived but now I’m a case manager with IIA. I believe I can help others coming to the U.S. because of my own experience," he said.
Weyrick and Rozsa were thrilled with the turnout and the interest in helping the IIA. Weyrick is the community relations manager for the North Canton Public Library and Rozsa owns and is creative director of Site 14 Design.
"By creating a space to share food and conversation, we hope to build greater solidarity with communities. We are excited with the support from our community, we had to turn people away because the event sold out. All of the food was donated for the event and the cooks and servers all volunteered their time," Weyrick said.