Cleveland is home to immigrants from about 62 different countries around the world.
This could lead to many difficulties for these newcomers and to others living here in this community were it not for the assistance provided by the Ocoee Regional Multicultural Services.
ORMS grew from ideas suggested around 2005 in an effort to provide services to legal immigrants to the Cleveland community.
Dr. Gary Ray, who served as the board president until 2010, and Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland were two of the major contributors to the creation and continuance of the program.
“ORMS is the only local or regional nonprofit, to my knowledge, that caters to the needs of an increasingly diverse population in our community,” said Christian Höferle, who replaced Ray as board president after Ray left the area for a new position in Texas.
Höferle said while there are some very good Chattanooga-based organizations that cater more exclusively to the Hispanic population in the region, “we don’t limit ourselves to that, but try to provide services for all ethnic, religious and national linguistic backgrounds and cultural backgrounds.”
He admits in the Cleveland area, the Hispanic population is one of the most underserved, but there are so many other cultures in this community.
“We have a strong influence of Ukrainian and Russian (immigrants), and Eastern European immigrants. We have a growing number of German neighbors in our community and a number of Asians from various national backgrounds.
“We, at ORMS, try to provide mostly free services to all of these newcomers to our community,” Höferle said.
He added these do not have to be immigrants in the United States for the first time, but could be those who have lived in other parts of America who have relocated here to be closer to family, or for school, or for employment opportunities.
With that in mind, ORMS created the Mosaic Center, which is located at the Blythe Avenue Safe Haven (the old Blythe Avenue Elementary School). The Mosaic Center offers many services to the community, with the most utilized being its translation services.
United Way of Bradley County provides the Mosaic Center with a grant made possible through the Bradley Memorial Health Endowment Fund to provide these translation services.
“Our goal is to help those who come here legally to improve their situation here,” Höferle explained. “In many cases, that involved their English skills.”
Thus, the Mosaic Center serves as a resource for volunteers who provide these services to the many different languages seen in the community.
“We try to attract volunteers from Lee and other parts of our community who share this background of being a newcomer to our area and have the ability to help translate words for these people,” said Rafael Lastra, Mosaic Center director.
Lastra, who moved to the Cleveland area in 1965 to attend what was then Lee College, said he knew no English when he moved here. He was eventually helped to be able to understand and then become proficient in the language, and now is giving back to this community through the Mosaic Center.
“I care for anybody who is a newcomer because I know what they are going through,” he said. “Sometimes, I admit, I may go overboard for them because I want to make it as easy as I can for them.”
Höferle gave an example of how these translation services may be used.
“Imagine an immigrant family with children in our local schools. The children speak English, but the parents speak their native language, and the schools need to talk to the parents or are in a parent-teacher conference. The schools will want an interpreter there to make sure that the message they are presenting gets to the parent as delivered,” he explained. “Rafael and his team have been doing a wonderful job of serving as interpreters for the schools.”
These are not the only translation services that the Mosaic Center have or can provide. When United Way of Bradley County was involved in a Community Needs Assessment in 2010, the Mosaic Center translated the assessment tool into Spanish, and was available to translate the assessment questionnaire into other languages if necessary for those needing this type of assistance.
“We want to thank Rafael and his group at the Mosaic Center for helping us with that project, and United Way of Bradley County is proud to partner with such a forward thinking program that assists people and organizations in efficiently communicating and better preparing a diverse population to work collaboratively,” said Matt Ryerson, vice president of Community Investment Strategies for United Way of Bradley County.
Lastra said they have had as many as 25 registered translators working with the Mosaic Center, and while some translators are just a phone call away, he feels a translator for almost any situation can be brought to Cleveland through the Mosaic Center within just a couple of hours.
The Mosaic Center and ORMS have also been involved with providing English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and hope to do so this spring. ORMS has been involved in many other activities in the community promoting an understanding of the diverse cultures here, including the “Building Community through Diversity” forum last January and the traveling Smithsonian exhibit “Journey Stories” last fall.
Höferle said ORMS and the Mosaic Center are very thankful with the grant from United Way.
“We are very, very grateful for the support we are getting from United Way, and honestly, without it, we would have to shut our doors,” Höferle said. “We appreciate the United Way for their help, and want to thank the Family Resource Agency for its support, and Gary Ray and Mayor Tom Rowland for always supporting the program.”
The program began through a three-year partnership with the Safe Schools Healthy Student initiative, and then has received a United Way grant for the past two years.
He said funding for the future is a concern, but hopes the community will come to see the program as providing a much needed service.
Ryerson, who stressed the United Way grants are provided on a yearly basis, said he too hopes the community can rise up and help this organization continue.
“With the recent and future growth of diversity in our community, a program like the Mosaic Center can play a key role in successfully integrating the best parts of our community,” added Ryerson.
Höferle said the services from the Mosaic Center are not only available to those from diverse cultural backgrounds in the community, but to nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies and local businesses.
To find out more about the Mosaic Center or the Ocoee Regional Multicultural Services, go to the website at www.mosaiccenter.wordpress.com or contact Lastra at (423) 584-6515. The Mosaic Center also has a Facebook page.