Lucas County and Welcome TLC press conference announcing Certified Welcoming designation, April 2019. Speaker Welcome TLC Co-Chair Reem Subei

Leaning on Certified Welcoming values through the pandemic in Lucas County

Written by Mely Arribas-Douglas, Welcome TLC Librarian, Toledo Lucas County Public Library (Ohio)

As part of our milestone in reaching 10 Certified Welcoming places this year, we hear from some of these places to see how becoming Certified Welcoming helped in the response to COVID-19, building resilience, and racial equity. In this blog, we hear from Lucas County in Ohio, which became Certified Welcoming in 2019.

The outbreak of COVID-19 presented cities and counties across the U.S. with unprecedented challenges. What were some of the unique challenges your community continues to face? How has being Certified Welcoming supported your community’s emergency response efforts for COVID-19?

When COVID-19 reached Lucas County, our main challenge was to share timely and accurate multilingual information from local and national sources important and specific to our communities. We then had to share this via our newsletter, social media, Facebook Live, and direct outreach. A parallel challenge was helping government and nonprofits to quickly develop and share content in other languages. Right as the crisis started, Several of our committee members were pulled in as “bilingual helpers” for the local Emergency Operations Center. Welcome TLC played a critical role in sharing translated and interpreted materials.

Having the Certified Welcoming designation allowed us to be the point of contact for local institutions to reach out to the local Limited English or English Learner community. While we are not the direct service provider to this community, we have partnerships with many civic and religious organizations and can quickly get this information out. We shared multilingual information on topics ranging from health directives (both local and national) to small business loans, the Payment Protection Program (PPP), rental assistance, and more. 

We also provided partners additional platforms to convene meetings and feature guests from the Lucas County Emergency Operations Center, the Greater Toledo Community Foundation, and the Library’s Business and Workforce Department. 

How has being Certified Welcoming created opportunities for resilience building within your community?

Being Certified Welcoming, and having that framework to make the case for language access during a pandemic, is essential. It has given organizations permission to look at how they approach their work using the Certified Welcoming lens. What does it mean to be Certified Welcoming and how can we better align with those values? Being a part of a Certified Welcoming community makes it easier to respond to those questions.

2017 Welcome TLC and City of Toledo Board of Community Relations Unity Press Conference at the Toledo Loves Love wall after Charlottesville, VA white supremacist rally, August 2017

Going through the Certified Welcoming process helps cities and countries identify new relationships and collaborations for communities, such as those between government officials, residents, police, and more. How have you leveraged these partnerships in responding to not only the pandemic, but also the Black Lives Matter movement and national conversation on race?

One thing the pandemic and subsequent movements have taught us is how interdependent our work is, and that we are more efficient and effective if we reach out and collaborate early on. 

Fortunately, for Welcome TLC, our steering committee is a diverse cross-sector of organizations and individuals, including immigrants and refugees. We expanded our meetings to include all partners so we can be responsive to their needs. We celebrated Immigrant Heritage Month [in June] with city and county proclamations; a virtual book discussion with the Library on Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas; and continued our tradition of storytelling by featuring two local immigrant healthcare heroes on the front line of the pandemic in our newsletter. The pandemic has allowed us to solidify established relationships and reconnect with those we collaborated with in the past to better serve our communities.

To further support our partners, we amplified their activities addressing systemic racism. We also issued a statement on the Black Lives Matter movement, which read:

“#BlackLivesMatter. Our hearts ache for the family of George Floyd and our Black community members living with systemic racism. His death is our collective loss and a future without racism is the collective work of our shared humanity. Welcome TLC is committed to justice, and we stand hand-in-hand in the spirit of inclusion and welcoming, to dismantle systemic racism in all its imaginable forms.”

We are also planning future programming and outreach to address the intersection of immigration and race. 

Think your city or county is a welcoming and inclusive place? Learn more about what it takes to become Certified Welcoming.

Header image: Lucas County and Welcome TLC press conference announcing Certified Welcoming designation, April 2019. Speaker – Welcome TLC Co-Chair Reem Subei

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