Immigrant Welcome Center- Natural Helpers

It’s easy to start up a new organization. But keeping it going? That’s the real challenge.

The group of Indianapolis leaders who launched the Immigrant Welcome Center a decade ago knew they needed to build an organization that would sustain itself.  And what better way than creating a means for immigrants to help immigrants navigate the maze of services available in the Indianapolis area?

The Immigrant Welcome Center, the brainchild of Amy Minick Peterson, was founded to meet the real-life needs of foreign-born newcomers to our community.  Her team learned about a program through the Annie E. Casey Foundation, where immigrants worked with fellow immigrants to access resources and services in their new communities.  The Casey Foundation program, which operated in a number of other cities, was called Natural Helpers

The Immigrant Welcome Center Natural Helpers program is straightforward- people who have been through the experience of moving to a strange city in a foreign country help fellow immigrants figure out how to get a job, an education, medical services, access to transportation, and more.  And when that helper has come from the same part of the world as the newcomer, the transition is smoother because of their shared language and culture.

Beth Casselman, Executive Director of the Indianapolis-based Clowes Foundation, said her board was willing to commit to the Immigrant Welcome Center after seeing the Natural Helpers program in action.  “what really resonated with us is there are so many needs in the immigrant community,” she said, and her board believed it was critical to develop leaders within that community.  Immigrant Welcome Center and the Natural Helpers program proved to be a great fit with that goal.

With funding from Casey, Clowes and other sources, Immigrant Welcome Center was up and running as a 5012c3 nonprofit operating out of the John H. Boner Community Center with Terri Morris Downs as its Executive Director.  And in October 2006, the first group of Natural Helpers was trained and delivering support and services throughout Indianapolis.

Today, the Natural Helpers program is a centerpiece of the Immigrant Welcome Center with 80 Natural Helpers working to make Indianapolis a truly welcoming community for all newcomers.

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To learn more about the growing foreign-born population in Indianapolis, Join us on September 10th for Live Local, Think Global