Central Ohio boasts an impressive array of organizations that help refugees and immigrants find their footing in a new land.

These agencies, however, often contend with one another for scarce grant money when those dollars could do more with a little collaboration.

"Human-service organizations have more incentives to compete than cooperate," said Sharvari Karandikar, Ph.D., an associate professor with the Ohio State University College of Social Work.

The competition-collaboration conundrum was among the key findings announced July 17 at the North YMCA during a presentation by Karandikar on the "New Americans Project: Assessing the Human Service Landscape in Central Ohio."

The event was hosted by City Council President Shannon G. Hardin and Councilman Emmanuel V. Remy.

Malik Wayne Moore, director of social responsibility for the YMCA of Central Ohio, provided the opening remarks. He noted that the meeting room, in which dozens of people gathered with nametags that read Tatiana, Jibril, Ibrahima, Nadia, Jesus, Sudarshan, Leroy, Janardan and Sumeria, was where "Refuge: A Space for Culture and Community" dinner guests had been hosted to bring together different immigrant and refugee groups with natives of the United States.

"What we got to see is how connected we are, how much we have in common," Moore said.

"Columbus has a long, proud history of being a welcoming community to immigrants and refugees," Hardin said, adding that the study project was instituted by his predecessor, Zach Klein, now the city attorney.

Reports often wind up gathering dust on shelves, but Hardin vowed that would not be the fate of the findings in the New Americans Project.

Remy noted that prior to being appointed to Columbus City Council, he served six years as president of the Northland Community Council.

"Living and leading in this diverse and vibrant community has shown me that while we've made great strides in welcoming new Americans, there is still much work to be done," he said.

Karandikar was one of four College of Social Work faculty members to work on the project.

The others, Arati Maleku, Njeri Kagotho and Cecilia Mengo, were all out of town or they would have been eager to attend the presentation, Karandikar said.

The study involved online surveys completed by 94 human-service organizations, 18 in-depth interviews with human-service professionals and 48 focus group participants representing 19 countries and 33 nationalities, Karandikar said.

Along with the call for increased cooperation among service providers, the key findings announced at the presentation included:

* The majority of human-service organizations, 68 percent, in central Ohio are serving new Americans, but the new American population still has limited access, particularly to legal and mental-health services.

* While language translation is widely available, it does not necessarily translate cultural interpretation, greatly jeopardizing services.

* Grassroots ethnic groups are bridging the gaps between mainstream service-providers and the new American communities. Yet they have limited resources and are faced with many challenges.

* Human-service organizations overwhelmingly agree on the problems facing new Americans, however, there is a lack of consensus around solutions.

"Workforce development came up all the time," Karandikar said. "People had all kinds of skills they came here with, but they are not able to use them."

"There is a strong consensus that Columbus is indeed a welcoming city, a place where new Americans rebuild their lives, thrive and contribute to the growing socio-economic diversity," the report stated in conclusion.

"While study participants identified the responsiveness of the human-service organizations, they also emphasized persistent gaps in the current human-service landscape.

"Participants underscore the role of culturally and linguistically responsive programs and deliberate community collaborations in ensuring the successful integration of new Americans.

"Finding ways to increase the social cohesion among diverse societies is critical to fostering a successful community, achieving equal opportunity, equity and justice."

"As you can hear, we have a lot of things to tackle and accomplish," Remy said.

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1