2019 in review

Looking Back at 2019


2019 Accomplishments

2019 marked a year of progress and transformation for the Immigrant Welcome Center (IWC). With an expanded staff, the implementation of new programs, and successful events, IWC is closing out the year with gratitude and anticipation for continued success in 2020.

Community partnerships have been a key piece of the IWC since the beginning and have helped the center to embark on one of its long-term goals – transitioning from a referral-based organization to providing more in-house programs and services. They kicked off 2019 by launching a partnership with and becoming a satellite office for, the Immigrant Connection. This partnership now provides Department of Justice accredited legal services to immigrants at a low cost. By offering these low-cost legal services in house, the IWC has been able to provide even more assistance to immigrants in need of legal assistance.

By serving as a satellite office for other nonprofit agencies, IWC is now able to offer in-house healthcare navigation services, by partnering with HealthNet.  Partnering with Morales Group Staffing Agency has also allowed the IWC to offer job placement and resume assistance. Providing additional services, rather than simply referring clients to them, is instrumental in IWC’s path to becoming a more well-rounded resource for immigrants in Indianapolis.

A new grant from the Cities for Citizenship network, a subsidiary of the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), was awarded to IWC in 2019. This grant established a stronger partnership between IWC and the city of Indianapolis and allowed the center to expand its staff. Specifically, the organization can now put more time and energy into enhancing and promoting the naturalization program due to filling the role of Naturalization & Marketing Coordinator.


2020 Strategies

As 2019 comes to a close, plans for 2020 are well underway.  The staff at IWC has been dedicated to developing their Cultural Humility Classes, a training program for local institutions.  This highly interactive and challenging training provides teams an opportunity to unpack the layers of culture, privilege, and power and how these concepts present staff with opportunities to work effectively cross-culturally.  The training aims to create a safe space for organizations and institutions to examine their own personal ideas and biases while moving forward by learning tools to implement cultural humility practices when working with the community.

Classes took place in 2019 and were very well-received.  Moving into the new year, the additional course curriculum will be added and opportunities for more businesses to register will be offered.  In the meantime, if your organization is interested in hosting a class, please contact Amy Shackelford at or call 317-808-2326.

Starting in February of 2020, IWC will begin offering citizenship classes, allowing the center to create a deeper connection with clients and help guide them through the lengthy and detailed process toward naturalization.  Upcoming sessions are scheduled for February 3rd and 5th.  To register, please call (317) 808-2326.

Changes in the Natural Helper program will offer volunteers more variety in how they want to get involved with IWC.  There will now be three optional tracks to this program: At-Large Natural Helper, Help Desk Natural Helper, and Ambassador.  For more details, please see the website.


Live Local, Think Global

Immigrant Welcome Center hosted its fifth annual Live Local, Think Global event on October 30th.  This year far surpassed prior years in both attendance and donations, and the organization is humbly grateful for the support and contribution toward the inclusion of immigrants in Indianapolis.

Speakers at the event offered unique and inspiring perspectives, promoting advanced awareness and understanding of the journey of immigrants.  Event attendees had the pleasure of sampling food from a variety of local, multi-cultural restaurants.

The event also offered an opportunity for IWC supporters to show their gratitude to Executive Director, Terri Morris Downs.  As her tenure with the organization comes to a close, it is evident the impact she has had on immigrants in Indianapolis.  Her legacy will live on in the motivation of the IWC staff to continue making great strides in this important issue.


2020 Vision

Strategic plans are underway to make the goals of the IWC a reality in 2020.  By continuing to offer more in-house programs, to assist clients with each step of the process toward naturalization, and to make strides in helping Indianapolis to become an even more inclusive city, IWC plans to play an integral role in changing the perception of and challenges to immigrants.  Classes, programs, and events will be posted on our social media channels – be sure to follow! Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter.  And get involved – the Immigrant Welcome Center isn’t merely a place to serve immigrants.  The Immigrant Welcome Center is an inviting place to involve any Hoosiers who want to be a part of making a lasting and life-changing difference in the future of diversity and inclusivity in Indianapolis.

Written by Anna Bunnell, Communcations Intern

City to City

Immigrant Welcome Center Executive Director, Terri Morris Downs, traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, as part of a city-to-city visit sponsored by Welcoming America and the Welcoming Economies Global Network.  During the two-day trip last month, representatives of Buffalo, Des Moines, Detroit, and Indianapolis met with several local economic development and immigrant- and refugee-serving organizations to learn about St. Louis’s successful programs and innovative approaches to support economic growth, workforce development, entrepreneurship, and highly-skilled immigrant integration efforts.  Also representing Indianapolis was Sarah MacInnis of Business Ownership Initiative.
Touring Casa de Salud (House of Health), a low-cost health clinic in St. Louis. I shared this signage idea with the Executive Director of Indianapolis’s “International Marketplace,” a thriving neighborhood of immigrant- and refugee-owned restaurants and businesses.  She would like to replicate it in Indy!
Coffees from around the world with international grocery store owner,
from Vietnam.
The beautiful and intricate details of a Turkish restaurant owned by an Iraqi refugee

Enjoying the Season with IWC’s Natural Helpers

Natural Helpers told us what they like to do in autumn and what they are thankful for this year.

Chandra Newsletter Photo“My favorite autumn activity in Indiana is visiting Kelsay Farms for a Family Picnic. Here we can show the kids what a real farm looks like with plenty of activities. We can feed the cows here and see how the cows are milked.”

Chandra Kesavan has been a Natural Helper since Spring 2016. His country of origin is India and he speaks Hindi, Tamil, Urdu, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and English.


“I am thankful for the opportunity for being a God’s instrument for helping others when they are most  in need. My best reward: the joy of seeing people fulfilling their dreams.”

Maryori Duarte-Sheffield has been a Natural Helper since 2009. Her country of origin is Venezuela and she speaks Spanish and English.


“I am grateful for having the time and energy which permits me to help people form many countries of the world and to continue to visit some of these places in my travels.”

Kathleen Lattimer has been a Natural Helper since 2013. Her country of origin is the United States of America and she speaks English and French.


Linda“My favorite autumn activity in Indiana is driving through Brown County for the turning of the leaves. Coming from a country without the 4 seasons, the different colors are a beautiful and wondrous thing for me to see each year.”

Linda Simba has been a Natural Helper since Summer 2017. Her country of origin is Kenya and she speaks English and Swahili.


Bumeh“I am thankful for ‘putting knowledge into practice.’ ”

Bumeh Maria has been a Natural Helper since Summer 2017. Her country of origin is Burma and she speaks Karenni, Burmese, and English.


Hilina Fessahaie (Eritrea)“I’m thankful to finally feel that I have the opportunity to realize any dream I want to pursue.”

Hilina Fessahaie has been a Natural Helper since early 2017. Her country of origin is Eritrea and she speaks Tigrinya, Amharic, and English.

Gabriella Borbás (Hungary)

“My favorite fall activity in Indianapolis is to walk in downtown streets with my grand-daughter. I especially like walking with her on Mass Ave. when the Halloween Trick or treat is on.”

Gabriella Borbás has been a Natural Helper since early 2017. Her country of origin is Hungary and she speaks Hungarian, Russian, French, and English.

“IWilliam am thankful for God’s protection to all Immigrants in Indianapolis.”

William Dido Kile has been a Natural Helper since Summer 2017. His country of origin is Democratic Republic of Congo and he speaks Swahili, French, Lingala, and English.


“I am grateful to everyone who helped new immigrants, especially children, even with a smile.”

Howaida Abdulahad has been a Natural Helper since 2015. Her country of origin is Syria and she speaks English and Arabic.

Qing“My favorite autumn activity in Indianapolis is running or hiking on different trails around the city. My favorite spot in downtown Indy is probably down by the canal.”

Qing Wang has been a Natural Helper since Summer 2017. Her country of origin is China and she speaks Mandarin Chinese and English.

Julia“I am thankful for being a member of Immigrant Welcome Center. I am also thankful for doing work that matters and for the members of Immigrant Welcome Center of helpers who are making a difference in the community and in the world.”

Julia Plehmeh has been a Natural Helper since Summer 2017. Her country of origin is Burma and she speaks Kayah.

Graham“I am grateful for all of the help the IWC and Natural Helpers give the Indy immigrant community. Also, I am very grateful to God for friends and family that give me unconditional love and support all the time!”

Graham Melendez has been a Natural Helper since Summer 2017. His country of origin is Peru and he speaks English and Spanish.

jose_pic1“I am grateful for my family. We have had our ups and downs, but they are really my foundation. I am grateful for my church and my church brothers and sisters that make me fell like I have second family to encourage me when I am facing tough situations in life.”

Joseph (José) Acosta has been a Natural Helper since 2013. His country of origin is México and he speaks English and Spanish.

Barbara“My Favorite Fall activity is the First Friday art show at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in November when Kyle Ragsdale is the featured artist and Spirit and Place events are in the gym. I am grateful for people who are willing to work out their differences with each other.”

Barbara Van Vleet has been a Natural Helper since summer 2017. Her country of origin is the United States and she speaks English and conversational Spanish.

Bakya Alabi (Benin)“I’m grateful for all the Immigrant Welcome Center is doing for immigrants. I do like to work with nice people from everywhere that are working with love and passion to serve others to meet their needs. It’s just a great and helpful program!”

Bakya Alabi has been a Natural Helper since early 2017. Her country of origin is Benin and she speaks English, Yoruba, Fon, and Nago.

Preh Reh“Autumn is my most favorite season. I like to go for a long walk, feel the wind whirling through my hair, and take the best pictures of the year within the beautiful colorful trees. Autumn is just the best season of the year for love. I can’t expect anything better than that.”

Preh Reh has been a Natural Helper since summer 2017. His country of origin is Burma and he speaks English, Karenni, Karen and Burmese.

Verne Flavious (St. Lucia)“My favorite thing to do in autumn here is participate in my church’s Thanksgiving dinner give away for the community. I am thankful for my family & the ability to serve my community.”

Verne Flavius has been a Natural Helper since early 2017. Her country of origin is St. Lucia and she speaks English and Creole.


Christian“My favorite fall activity in Indianapolis is networking with people. I am thankful for being part of the Immigrant Welcome Center as an Natural Helper.”

Christian Ngalula Matamba has been a Natural Helper since summer 2017. His country of origin is Democratic Republic of Congo and he speaks English, French, Swahili, Lingala and Ciluba.

Check out a map of the places of origin of all of our Natural Helpers, a list of the languages they speak, or learn more about the program.

Newsletter Thank You

Answer the Call and Help Us Support Immigrants and Refugees

AmericanFlagIn November, the Immigrant Welcome Center and our friends at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana, the Center for Victim and Human Rights, Exodus Refugee Immigration, and the Muslim Alliance of Indiana issued the statement below in response to calls to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana:


Indiana Governor Mike Pence announced he is suspending the resettlement of Syrian refugees in our state. We believe the Governor’s statement unfairly characterizes Hoosiers as unwelcoming, and does not reflect the diversity most of us value in our communities.

We too are saddened by the tragedy and loss of innocent lives in Paris. But we must be resolved to live in a manner that reflects our values and not live in fear. Millions of refugees are fleeing violence in their homelands, trying to escape from the same terrorist groups who have committed acts of violence in other parts of the world. To deny access to these refugees would be inhumane.

More than 4 million Syrians have left their homeland in search of a safe haven and have a right to be treated with basic human dignity. Sheltering refugees from violence is one of the most noble acts a country can undertake. Many Hoosiers already work tirelessly to help welcome the stranger. Refugees are making enormous contributions to our state economically, culturally and socially. In the past two years, about 30 Syrians have been resettled in Indiana and many Hoosiers are open to welcoming more families.

We understand the need to be safe and to protect ourselves from those who wish to do us harm. U.S. security agencies and the Department of Homeland Security already have strict measures in place to screen refugees. To roll up the welcome mat is to play into how the terrorists would want Americans to react – to change our way of living and to cause fear and misunderstanding of the Syrian people.

Given the urgent need to resettle refugees, and Hoosiers’ long history of helping those in need from around the world, we call on Governor Pence to reconsider his position. By welcoming Syrian refugees, we show the world our resolve to be welcoming and inclusive, and we stand up for the quintessential American values we hold dear: liberty and justice for all. 


Since we issued this statement, a Syrian family has resettled in Indiana. But unfortunately, some of the angry rhetoric continues. 

If you want to help us stand up for American values by assisting local immigrants and refugees, support the Immigrant Welcome Center. Learn more about our programs, volunteer or make a donation today!







Immigrant Welcome Center Moves to Fountain Square

southeastcommFountain Square will soon be the epicenter of diversity in Indianapolis. In December, the Immigrant Welcome Center relocated its offices from the John H. Boner Community Center to 901 Shelby St. in Fountain Square.

Please join us for a Community Open House at the new location on Dec. 14!

The move will position us to better assist Marion County’s burgeoning immigrant population. The number of immigrants in the county is expected to double by 2023, from 60,000 to nearly 120,000.

“Our job is to help Indianapolis prepare for and embrace our growing immigrant population,” said Terri Morris Downs, IWC executive director. “What better place to fulfill our mission than in the Fountain Square Cultural District where newcomers and new businesses are sprouting up daily!”

The new location is close to other community organizations and offers dedicated meeting and event space that can better accommodate our Natural Helper volunteers, educational workshops and other community outreach programs.

“Because transportation is often a challenge for new immigrants and refugees, it’s important for us to be in an accessible location,” said Downs. “Moving to Fountain Square will allow us to eventually expand the reach of our neighborhood and mobile branches and serve even more people in the community.”

The Center “welcomes” immigrants and connects them to services that will help them be successful in Indianapolis, whether it’s finding a job, legal services, transportation, housing, education, health care or nearly any other services. Visit immigrantwelcomecenter.org to learn more or to get involved.

The phone number, (317) 808-2326, remains the same. Please call us with any questions.

DC Convening Shared a Vision of Better Immigration Integration


IWC Executive Director Terri Morris Downs with David Lubbell, Executive Director of Welcoming America, and Jane Gehlhausen with the Mayor’s Office of International and Cultural Affairs.

Jane Gehlhausen of the Mayor’s Office for International and Cultural Affairs and I proudly represented Indianapolis at the recent Welcoming Cities Convening in Washington, DC. We were encouraged to see the work being done nationally and between states and local governments in support of immigrants.

Here’s a snapshot of what we heard on major issues affecting immigrants and Indianapolis:

  • Building Welcoming Communities – The White House announced a new campaign that will connect federal resources with local communities to expand immigrant integration efforts, specifically in the areas of small business development, education, and citizenship resources. The program calls on communities to commit to and act on principles that focus on building inclusive communities that enable all residents to thrive, while advancing immigrant, civic, linguistic and economic integration. Indianapolis has a great start on this already!
  • Issuing driver’s licenses – Data now supports why states should issue driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants. States that have enacted such laws have demonstrated its effectiveness in increasing the number of insured drivers, reducing accidents.
  • Office of Immigrant Affairs – In a solidly pro-immigrant stance, most big-city mayors have opened an Office of Immigrant Affairs or New Americans and moved away from simply having Latino Affairs representatives.
  • Language Accessibility – The number one need of immigrants nationally is language accessibility, which should be considered in any integration plan. Cities and nonprofits are negotiating better rates with language lines and interpreting/translation companies.
  • Refugee Resettlement – The U.S. State Department will increased the number of refugees it resettles from 70,000 in 2015 to 85,000 in 2016, and efforts are underway to advocate funding for 100,000+ in 2017.

As you can see, there are many complex, sometimes divisive issues facing U.S. cities as evident by the commentary in the widely covered presidential campaigns. Most of the community leaders we met seemed to recognize the importance of attracting and retaining immigrants and their enormous economic, social and cultural benefits. They face many of the same quality-of-life questions, and like Indianapolis, will continue grassroots efforts to address these challenges, seize the opportunities and ensure our country’s continued success and prosperity.

You can help!
Be an advocate and educate others on why comprehensive immigration reform is crucial to our economy and the well-being of families and join our Welcoming Cities Task Force. Please call (317) 223-0933 or email us by Nov. 20 to get involved in this exciting new initiative and help drive the future of Indianapolis as a Welcoming City.


TerriMorrisDowns.StaffTerri Morris Downs, has been the executive director for the Immigrant Welcome Center in Indianapolis since its inception 10 years ago.

Natural Helper blog- Francisco Ruiz

FranciscoRuizFrancisco Ruiz was on camera talking about how he came to Indianapolis for love and ended up falling in love with the city when the cell phone in his pocket buzzed. It was a fellow immigrant reaching out for help. He’d call them back as soon as he finished the interview.

That moment says much about Ruiz, who was born in Colombia and has been among the most active Natural Helpers with the Immigrant Welcome Center. Spanish-speaking newcomers across Indianapolis have Ruiz’s number. They know he’s the guy to connect them to the resources they need to succeed in their new hometown.

Ruiz was a taxi driver and tour guide in his home state of Quindio, Colombia before immigrating to Indianapolis in 2007. In fact, he was featured in a 2006 New York Times article about the coffee trail and how Colombia came to develop renowned coffee beans.  He met his wife when she was a visiting Colombia and eventually immigrated to Indianapolis where they live today.

His skills as a tour guide translated well to his new life in Indianapolis as he began volunteering through his church, St. Mary’s in downtown Indianapolis, and eventually connected with the Immigrant Welcome Center. After completing training, Ruiz became a natural helper working to help his fellow newcomers connect with everything from language classes to job programs.

“I give my telephone number to everybody and I am okay that everybody calls,” he said, learning quickly that while people might seek help for one or two issues, a face-to-face conversation often reveals many more needs. His job as facilities manager at St. Mary’s allows him to extend his reach into the community.

Throughout central Indiana there are dozens of natural helpers like Ruiz working with foreign-born newcomers integrate into the community. People representing 120 nationalities bring their talents to Indianapolis, building vibrant and diverse neighborhoods.

“Live local, think global” is a corporate communications event being held Sept. 10 at the Athenaeum in Indianapolis to raise fund and highlight the vital work of the Immigrant Welcome Center. Hosted by IWC and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the event promises an evening of robust discussions about how the business community can be ready for the influx of foreign-born newcomers. Panelists include leaders from the Chamber, Eli Lilly, Cummins and other businesses will share their perspectives.

Learn about how to make our community welcoming to all newcomers by attending. The is open to the public and for information about how to get your ticket: Click here to register

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.

*   *   *

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

The Immigrant Welcome Center- building connections and community

Imagine traveling thousands of miles to a city in a new country where you don’t understand the language, the culture and customs seem strange, and where the simplest tasks are overwhelming. Immigrants to our community face those challenges every single day.

How do you navigate the public school system? What about a job? Housing? Learning English? Yes, there are services in Indianapolis to help immigrants, but they aren’t in one place and they aren’t always easy to access.

That was what Amy Minick Peterson realized about a decade ago when, as first lady of Indianapolis, she witnessed the challenges faced by foreign-born newcomers.  She was visiting an organization that provided services to the Latino community when a young couple with two small children carrying their possessions in grocery bags walked in asking for help.

She asked questions about how the family got there and what was going to happen to them after she left. And she continued asking questions as she met with members of her staff, including Terri Downs, and with Mike Carter of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee.

Out of those conversations the Immigrant Welcome Center was born. Their goal – do as much as possible to make Indianapolis a welcoming city. They were going to do this by providing the resources to link foreign-born newcomers to the people, places and resources they need to build their lives in a new community.

But where to start? Enter the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which funds initiatives to help disadvantaged children and their families. Through the Casey Foundation they learned about a program that trains immigrants to help each other navigate the web of programs and resources. They traveled to Seattle where a similar program operated so they could learn what works and adapt the model to Indianapolis.

With initial funding from the Casey Foundation, the Clowes Fund in Indianapolis and others, the Immigrant Welcome Center was launched as a 501c3 organization with the Natural Helpers Program as its centerpiece and Downs as its executive director.

Carter summed up their mission best when he said that they didn’t want to repeat what other groups were doing and wanted to build an organization that would last.

And that’s what they’ve done.