Foundation carries on tradition of welcoming immigrants

From 2008 – 2012, the St. Joe Foundation sponsored Catherine Kasper Place, which welcomed several thousand Burmese refugees relocating to northeast Indiana. The facility housed 12 local organizations that provided more than 27,000 items of donated clothing, furniture, and food to Burmese refugee families. There were more than 58,000 visits to Catherine Kasper Place to access linguistically and culturally appropriate services.

Support from the St. Joe Foundation has helped launch the Welcoming Fort Wayne Plan. The plan outlines goals, recommendations and strategies needed to create more equitable access for immigrants and refugees in four areas: Connected Communities and Public Safety, Economic Development and Entrepreneurship, Civic Engagement, and Education.

“We are happy to continue to support these efforts to welcome and include all newcomers to our community,” says Meg Distler, executive director of the St. Joe Foundation. “Members of our sponsor, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, came to Fort Wayne in 1868 to help care for the health and wellness of immigrants and we want to continue that compassion for immigrants and refugees today.”

The Welcoming Fort Wayne Plan is the result of participating in the Gateways for Growth Initiative, in which Amani Family Services, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and Downtown Fort Wayne received funding to work with technical advisors and local consultants to gather the latest impact data available on immigrants and refugees living and working in Fort Wayne-Allen County. The St. Joe Foundation provided matching dollars to help complete the work.

Briana Broberg, Midwest Regional Manager for Welcoming America, Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters and Stephanie Crandall, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the City of Fort Wayne, made remarks during the announcement of the Welcoming Fort Wayne Plan. Crandall, on behalf of Mayor Henry, said that the city will be in support of the next phases of the plan which include pursuing a Certified Welcoming designation through Welcoming America. The requirements for certification are considered to be the standard of excellence in creating culturally inclusive communities.

“We are a community that prioritizes quality of place and belonging for all,” said Amani CEO Ewelina Connolly. “We are a community that understands that true welcoming requires intentional and collective work to translate welcoming attitudes into actions, policies and networks, and in doing so, we continue to trail blaze and set peace for the rest of our state. Today, we are proud to share that after a yearlong process of collecting and analyzing data, learning from the voices of our community members, and engaging in strategic conversations with top community leaders and champions across industries, we are now ready to share what we believe needs to become a blueprint of welcoming for our community.”

To learn more about the plan, go to The plan can be downloaded from Amani’s homepage.

Amani Family Services thanked the following funders for the ongoing support: St. Joseph Community Health Foundation investing grant match dollars to support the Gateways for Growth collaboration; the James Foundation and Old National Bank for their early investment into the Welcoming Fort Wayne initiative; Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne for investing in the future of Welcoming Fort Wayne.