Local officials and civic leaders frequently boast that Columbus is an especially welcoming place for immigrants and refugees.

Now there's a place to support that claim.

The newest New American Welcome Center was dedicated last week at the North YMCA, 1640 Sandalwood Place, as part of a growing network of centers at YMCA sites around the country.

It's located in a small room just off the lobby, but it makes a big statement about how important YMCA of Central Ohio officials feel it is to help people find their footing in their new home, said Malik Wayne Moore, executive director of social responsibility.

People seeking assistance in the New American Welcome Center -- which features three clocks depicting different time zones -- may dress differently and speak different languages, Moore said in his opening remarks during the June 20 dedication, which coincided with World Refugee Day.

"They are our neighbors, nonetheless," he said.

Moore referred to the small space inside the North Y as a "safe place where people can be their best selves."

"America is a nation of immigrants and we've always been a nation of immigrants," said state Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus).

Leland quoted from the poem "The New Colossus," which is on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

"That's what America stands for," he said. "What you're doing here today is making the promise of that come true."

Northland Community Council President Emmanuel V. Remy said, "It's an awesome day in the Northland area."

The neighborhood, he added, is where many immigrants and refugees make their first home upon arriving in Columbus. It's important to have a place where these people can learn about the services that will help them get properly settled, Remy said.

"We think the Northland area is certainly the most diverse in the city of Columbus and probably in the state of Ohio," he said.

"This New American Welcome Center means a lot for us," said Dr. Seleshi Ayalew Asfaw, executive director of Ethiopian Tewahado Social Services. "This is something that makes our hearts so happy."

The New American Welcome Centers are designed to help immigrants fully integrate into American society and prepare receiving communities to be welcoming and inclusive, according to the YMCA of Central Ohio website.

This is accomplished, the site says, through integration services, collaborations with community leaders and businesses, and strategies to connect and build cross-cultural understanding between immigrants and U.S.-born residents.

"I think the dedication of this room shows an investment in our community," Franklin County Commissioner Kevin L. Boyce said. "It makes us a better community, it makes us a healthier community and, more important, it's part of what makes America great."

Stephen Ives, CEO of the YMCA of Central Ohio, said, "This is meant to be a model for what we'll do in our other facilities."

Ives said that while he was waiting to make his remarks during the dedication, he met a man in the audience who was a former executive director of the YMCA in Alexandria, Egypt.

"It's a small world, folks, a tiny world," Ives said. "It gets smaller every day."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1