Live Local, Think Global: Immigrant Welcome Center Celebrates 15 years of Impact

Photography by Jacob Moran & Sydney Mills

This might come as a surprise to some, but I am actually a first generation immigrant. My parents and I departed from Soviet Russia when I was not quite ten years old. We left with our entire existence packed into five suitcases and headed for the farthest reaches of the world aka Australia! We spent the first few weeks of our new life in Melbourne residing at a transitional facility created specifically for new immigrants (Maribyrnong Migrant Hostel). The hostel campus had clusters of dormitory-style apartment buildings conjoined by connecting, covered walkways, a cafeteria, some playgrounds and classrooms for English language classes. I made friends with other migrant kids from different parts of the world, and we used hand signals and broken English to communicate. Every day was an uncomfortable comedy of errors.

Thankfully as a kid, it was quite easy for me to pick up the new language, and start acclimating to my new home. I know my parents did not have such an easy transition. Both of them knew enough English to get by, but navigating the cultural, social and economic realities of their new life was a large mountain to climb. We were fortunate to start our journey in a space created specifically with us in mind. Within a few weeks, my parents were able to rent an apartment and purchase a car. Soon they had work, and we began to settle into our new environment in earnest.

It was not an easy time for either one of my parents. Between trying to understand a foreign culture, improving their communication skills, ensuring I was successful in school, and paying bills, they had a LOT to deal with. I’m grateful that they had resources available to them to help ease the stress of moving half-way across the world.

Which is why I have a special place in my heart for Indy’s Immigrant Welcome Center (IWC).

Located at 901 Shelby St in Downtown Indianapolis, IWC has been helping immigrants and refugees since 2006. Their mission to empower Indy’s immigrants “by connecting them to the people, places, and resources that enable them to build successful lives and enrich our community,” has been evidenced in hundreds of alumni success stories. I’m grateful that we have the opportunity to share just a handful of those with you!

On April 21 IWC will celebrate 15 years of creating a welcoming community for our immigrant and refugee neighbors. Learn more about their event here, and please donate to support their continued work!

Refugee Pastor Fikiri

When and why did you leave your native country?
I’m a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the east side of the country. I flees the persecution due to the conflict and persecution which started in 1996. I fled my country in 2006 and I was a refugee in a Malawi Refugee camp for 10 years. There in the Malawi refugee camp I continued my studies at Mahanaim Bible College Lilongwe Campus in theologies and pastoral ministry. I graduated in 2010. By the grace of God I was selected by the United Nations for the refugee UNHCR to come to the USA in 2016 October.

Knowing broken English and being a pastor I see the need for the refugee community who doesn’t speak English. I said to myself, “people need my help.”

What do you do for a living?
In October 2016 I started helping refugees and immigrants in the Indianapolis community, taking them to doctor’s appointments, helping refugees to read and respond to their correspondence, doing French, Swahili, Lingala, and Chichewa interpretations for schools, hospitals and courtrooms. In 2017 I received training at Immigrants Welcome Center. There I became a Natural Helper. In 2018 we started the organization called LIFE4REFUGEES Inc. Under LIFECHURCH180 ensembles of God with the senior pastor Brian Correll. Now we are working in partnership with different refugee agencies in Indianapolis and the Immigrant Welcome Center.

What was the biggest contribution IWC has made to your transition to Indiana?
The Immigrant Welcome Center has helped me a lot to develop leadership skills throughout different training.

Dr. Diana Teverbaugh

When did you leave your native country?
I left Peru at the age of 15 years old.

What is one word or phrase to describe your experience as an immigrant in Indy?
Perseverant and hard working.

Favorite place in or thing about Indiana?
The four seasons.

Advice to new immigrants moving to Indiana?
Indiana is a great place to start a life as a new immigrant. I have always felt very welcome, there are many opportunities for those who study and work hard and the cost of living is not as high as other states. There are a lot of job and education opportunities and since I have moved here in 1996 I have seen the increase in diversity, which is amazing for Indiana! We are all exposed to many languages cultures, food, etc.

What do you do for a living?
I am a general dentist and my business is called Teverbaugh Dental in Fishers, Indiana.

When did you start your business?
In 2013.

Advice to immigrants looking to be an entrepreneur or business owner?
Work hard, believe in yourself and never give up. If I can do it,  you can too. Find a mentor and resources available to start your business and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whatever area of business you are interested in, continue your education and learn more about it. Become the expert and never stop learning, network with other business owners, connect with them who will connect you with other people to promote your business

Miguel Dominguez

When did you leave your native country?
I arrived to the states when I was 10. I have lived here in Indy ever since!

What is one word or phrase to describe your experience as an immigrant in Indy?
Fortunate. I choose that word because I have truly been very fortunate to have been given the opportunities I’ve had. The timing, the people that came into my life, and the things I have been able to learn. I have been fortunate enough to have lived my experiences as well as understand, even if it’s just by a small percentage, the experiences and opportunities of those around me.

Favorite place in Indy?
I love all my local coffee shops in the city! Provider & Indie Coffee roasters specially!

Advice to recent immigrants moving to Indiana?
Please reach out! There are so many resources available and so many organizations willing to lend a hand. I am still opening doors and finding new friendships and connections. I’m AMAZED at how many organizations are

willing to do everything to make sure our immigrant communities have what they need. Don’t be afraid to explore your city also. There are many, many beautiful places around the corner and many hidden gems waiting to be uncovered.

What was the biggest contribution IWC has made to your transition to Indiana?
As someone who has aspired to be more involved in my community. Finding out about the IWC really made me realize just how involved the entire city is with each other. All the people in different communities joining weekly calls just to learn more about what each of us are doing. It has also inspired me to do more for my community, to lend a hand whenever I can, and to continue to be a helping hand for others.

What do you do for a living?
I am a freelance Photographer & Filmmaker!

How did you get into that?
I started my journey as a photographer & filmmaker thanks to my dad. When I was 14 I started to lend a hand on all his events and projects (he is also a photographer and filmmaker). I have been in the field ever since! Evolving my craft and continuing to learn as much as I can!

What advice do you have for other immigrants who want to own their own businesses?
There are multiple opportunities for everyone including entrepreneurs and business owners. There are also plenty of people who will answer your questions, will help you in your next steps, and will encourage you to always do your best. Also, know that having your own business won’t be easy, but it’s most definitely not impossible. Stay dedicated and most importantly ALWAYS keep learning. It’s a mindset that I am still applying today to everything I do. Learn from your mistakes and for opportunities to improve and go at it again!

Sunny Shuai

When did you leave your native country?
I left Shanghai in 2000.

What is one word or phrase to describe your experience as an immigrant in Indy?
I faced many challenges such as culture gaps, language difficulties, etc. when I first came to Indy. These experiences gave me the will to move forward, channeling my hard times into a source of energy. Resilience and the ability to adapt to a changing world are the most important fundamental qualities to become a successful immigrant.

Favorite place in Indy?
The Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Advice to new immigrants moving to Indiana?
There is no doubt that immigrants are facing many challenges on their road to success, and language is one of them. Try your best to learn the language, culture and economic system in this new country. There is a complete lack of reference that has to be built as fast as possible for your survival. Home is where the heart is! The more you know about your new home, the faster you will find peace and happiness in it.

What do you do for a living?
I am a Realtor affiliated with F.C. Tucker Company. My business is Sunny Homes.

When did you start your business?
I started my business in 2019.

Advice to immigrants looking to be an entrepreneur or business owner?
Be brave, be confident and be cautious, achieving your dreams of success.

More from Polina Osherov

Flora + Fauna + Fashion = Zoobilation!

To celebrate this year’s Zoobilation event, we partnered with the Indianapolis Zoo...
Read More