Northland News

Newcomers could benefit from 'nonprofit mall'

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

People who relocate to Columbus -- whether it's from Kentucky or Kenya -- have a lot to figure out.

It's not just dealing with the proliferation of streets that abruptly change names, but also the location of schools, churches, grocery stores and more.

A group of Northland residents and representatives of nonprofit organizations that operate in the area are exploring the idea of creating a welcome center to offer orientation to newcomers. They're hoping to combine this with a wellness center and "nonprofit mall," a sort of one-stop shop for people who need to access services or find out where to obtain them.

"The vision is to have a place where people can come and get these services," the Rev. Kwesi Gyimah of the Columbus African Seventh-day Adventist Church said last week at the sixth in a series of summit meetings for nonprofit agencies convened by the Northland Alliance.

"We all have resources," said Joyce Bourgault, chairwoman of the Northland Alliance and executive director of the Helping Hands Health and Wellness Center.

The problem is, she said, these resources are so scattered in central Ohio that not even the people involved in them are aware of one another's existence.

"It makes it difficult for people to get what they need," Bourgault said. "It's hard to get to the resources. They need to go to one place where they can do this stuff and find these resources."

Gyimah, a native of Ghana who came to the United States from Nigeria in 2001, used his own example of how he wasted his first three years in the country in a fruitless pursuit of a nursing degree.

The first program he enrolled in, Gyimah said, turned out to have a long waiting list before nursing courses could be pursued -- something that didn't become clear for a year. The second program didn't even offer a nursing degree, but again, it took him more than a year to discover that.

"You can be a citizen of this country and have the same problem," he said.

Many young immigrants wind up in the wrong school for the kind of career they hope to pursue, Gyimah added, thus wasting their student loans and falling into debt.

"You end up not getting the best out of why you came to this country," he said.

A welcome center for people arriving in central Ohio, whether from elsewhere in Ohio, other parts of the United States or other countries, could provide computer training, job training and lessons in financial literacy, Gyimah said.

"The problem is, where can we put this location?" he said. "That's where we are stuck."

Problem potentially solved, said Dragana Saas, a member of the Ready to Read Corps at the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

Libraries increasingly are moving away from just being places where people check out books and other items and more toward being a focal point for finding needed assistance, she said. Computer and job training already is being offered at branches, as is instruction in financial literacy, Saas said.

With some training provided by nonprofit organizations about where to tap into other resources, library staff members potentially could provide many of the welcome-center services Bourgault and Gyimah have been discussing, she said.

"As far as the location, you've got one," Saas said. "We want to be part of the community, to be relevant to what's important to the community."

"There's definitely an opportunity work with the library leadership to do something like this," Gyimah said.

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