City and county officials have expressed a degree of support for the concept of a welcome center/nonprofit "mall" in the Northland area, but a much more detailed plan will be required in order to get more than lip service.
Northland Alliance chairwoman Joyce Bourgault and Nadia Kasvin, chief executive officer of the nonprofit outreach and resettlement organization US Together Inc. on East Dublin-Granville Road, provided that update last week at the seventh in a series of summit meetings for agencies serving the neighborhood.
"I see every day more and more the need for a space where we can provide services," Bourgault said. "The city is very interested in what we are talking about."
She suggested that the former Kohl's store on Morse Road, a portion of which was used by the Franklin County Board of Elections as an early-voting site, would be the "perfect location" for a place to welcome newcomers to the country and the city, and to serve as the office or satellite office for nonprofits in the Northland area.
Bourgault asked those present at the gathering how many would be willing to be represented at, and invest in, a nonprofit and welcome center. She said the Helping Hands Health and Wellness Center free clinic, of which she is executive director, might be willing to make its home in such a facility.
While the first steps of approaching Columbus public officials, including the mayor's office, have been taken, Kasvin cautioned that a whole lot more steps by a whole bunch more people will be required to accomplish the goal of creating such an operation.
A detailed business plan with "concrete requests" for exactly what such a center would do and what's needed in the way of support from the city, county, state and private funding sources is imperative, according to Kasvin. She suggested strongly that a consultant might be needed to craft such a business plan.
"We really need somebody who is actually doing that, because we all have other jobs that we are doing," Kasvin said.
Their comments were made during the latter portion of Northland Nonprofit Summit Seven at Ascension Lutheran Church on Morse Road. Bourgault launched the series of meetings for nonprofit organizations and agencies based in or serving the Northland area as a means of eliminating duplication of effort and identifying gaps in services.
The idea of a combined nonprofit and welcome center was first raised at the Sept. 26 summit gathering.
Its purpose would be to "provide a one-stop access point for community resources within the community," including those for new residents of the city, not only refugees and immigrants, but also those moving from others parts of the state and country. Services discussed for possible inclusion would include settlement, wellness, dispute resolution, employment assistance, education, safety and training.
A governing board would be needed to manage whatever site might eventually be found, Bourgault said last week. The purpose would not be to run the agencies involved but to provide coordination, she said.
"There's a lot more conversation that needs to go on," she added.
"It's absolutely workable," Kasvin commented.
"I know this takes time," Bourgault said. "I know that what each of us are doing is important, too. But we need a central team of people willing to make these contacts ... so that we can keep this moving."