AKRON, Ohio — After decades of serving the city’s refugees and immigrants from offices in North Hill, "Akron's International Community," the International Institute of Akron announced it will move to a downtown location in early 2023.
IIA Executive Director Madhu Sharma said in a statement the agency will keep two classrooms at the International House of San Tomasso, a North Hill residential development designed specifically for immigrants and refugees, where English classes and programming will continue.
“With this move, we are intentionally creating a space that encourages personal connection and where we can host more community functions,” Sharma said. “We can keep growing our staff, volunteer and client base, and expanding our impact.”
As a federally appointed resettlement agency, IIA provides refugees from around the globe with legal, employment and housing assistance, among other services. IIA connects refugees with organizations that help orient them to American culture and make them feel welcome.
While many of Akron’s refugee families rely on services within walking distance, Sharma said the institute’s new address, 530 S. Main St., Suite 1762, is accessible via public transit and immigrants now live in neighborhoods around the city.
The office will open in January on Akron’s south side at Canal Place, a former B.F Goodrich industrial site that has been repurposed to house multiple businesses.
Akron and Summit County have been considered welcoming to immigrants and refugees since 2015, when Akron City Council and Summit County Council passed resolutions announcing that the broader community is welcoming. Being welcoming means government, businesses and nonprofits create inclusive policies and practices that make refugees and immigrants feel welcome, and to ultimately help them prosper.
In 2017, the city and county partnered with IIA, Asian Services in Action and Global Tires Akron to create a multi-part “Strategic Welcoming Plan” that began the process of implementing actions that lead to inclusion.
In October 2018, IIA had to leave its long-time location on Tallmadge Avenue in North Hill. The city had acquired IIA’s building and another business to demolish to allow reconfiguration of the intersection there, which had high crash rates, the city said.
The city assisted the agency in moving to Summa St. Thomas Hospital several blocks from the old site to enable IIA to stay close to its core clients, which at the time was considered imperative, the city said.