In 2005, former First Lady of Indianapolis Amy Minick Peterson spearheaded a study to determine how immigrant newcomers' needs were being met in Central Indiana. Together with members of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee (GIPC), chaired by community leader Yvonne Shaheen, Mrs. Peterson researched various immigrant populations and their needs, convened focus groups with service providers and studied best practices in other cities for assisting immigrants and refugees.
With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the team traveled to Seattle to learn more about a program where immigrants help other immigrants become acclimated to a new culture. This Natural Helpers model became the basis for the Immigrant Welcome Center.
The Immigrant Welcome Center, as it is known today, was established as a stand-alone 501(c)(3) in 2006. It helps newcomers connect to the services to meet their basic needs, including transportation, health care, employment and job training, education, legal issues, ESL classes, and more.
The first cohort of 12 Natural Helpers, multilingual immigrants or refugees themselves completed a 28-hour training session in 2006 and immediately began assisting immigrant newcomers. They provide emotional support and compassionately reassure the newcomer they aid through their good works, shared values and experiences, connection to the community, and common language. Natural Helpers also attend ongoing workshops provided by social service agencies, faith-based institutions, government and public service agencies and others that meet the needs of different ethnic groups and/or refugee populations to further increase their knowledge of public and nonprofit resources for immigrants.
The Immigrant Welcome Center also serves as a resource for other programs and organizations in the community by collecting information about immigrant needs and how to best meet them, as well as by coordinating interagency services and addressing barriers to access.
With an engaged board of directors, a wide network of partner organizations, and a grassroots approach to identifying needs and situations before they become obstacles, the Immigrant Welcome Center provides a welcoming and resourceful hand to newcomers as they establish their new roots in Indianapolis.