Chamber offering assistance to newcomers

LIMA — Lima city councilman Derry Glenn said he is holding a follow-up to his May forum that saw a major uproar from residents because they deserve answers to the questions they asked and residents of Haitian descent, themselves working residents, deserve someone standing up for them.

People like Michael Nungester, the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce’s newcomer navigator, are trying to assist immigrants of Latino and Haitian descent with assimilation into the Lima community.

“Citizens in the community have questions and everybody is sidestepping and not accepting them,” Glenn said. “The taxpayer has a right to have their questions answered, but I’m going to listen to everybody and not just certain groups. And I am playing neutral with the whole deal because I am there to be a middleman even if it puts a target on my back.”

For Nungester, of Haitian descent himself, helping recent immigrants become a part of the community ultimately comes down to one thing: communication.

“If you mess one thing up on a document involving public health or finances, you can’t move on to the next thing,” he said. “It’s difficult for anybody living here so imagine a newcomer who doesn’t even understand the language or read it. That’s the reason why (the Lima Area Chamber Foundation) opened this position, to help them navigate through the society.”

The foundation recently sent out a survey asking community organizations about their willingness to hire newcomers.

“The vast majority of them don’t speak English or have a formal education,” Nungester said. “But they have a level of intelligence that would require them to be able to undertake a journey such as they have taken to reach this country. They are capable of establishing themselves, but the major barrier they have is language because they are very competent people.”

Mayor Sharetta Smith told city council in April ( there was a dire need for interpretation services in the city’s courts, schools and healthcare services.

Glenn found that some of the questions delivered to him at the first forum were about the legal status of the residents.

In May (, Allen County Sheriff Matt Treglia told The Lima News residents should avoid assuming a migrant is here without a visa keeping them from being deported.

To that point, Nungester said his aims go toward forming a resource guide for the people he serves to help them get housing, medical health and a crash course of formal education necessary to survive and have a sustainable life in the United States.

“The financial literacy in Haiti is different than the one we have here because there is a lot of bureaucracy in the United States as opposed to what is back in Haiti,” he said. “That is the issue we are running into here.”

The city, as well as other organizations, have shown an interest in looking out for newcomers at risk of being taken advantage of with events like resource fairs offering information on housing and employment.

Nungester said he has not yet had communications with city officials, but that they are welcome to reach out to him, especially if they are interested in adding to interpretive services.

“It could cut down on a lot of the confusion in the city if they tried to employ more Haitians and did a proper ESL campaign for newcomers,” he said. “I think it would be very beneficial for everyone because the confusion comes from not being able to communicate. If they can’t understand you, it’s going to breed animosity because you don’t know what they’re thinking or what they’re saying.”

Glenn said he was supportive of such efforts and hoped that his forums worked toward those goals.

“I’m excited about it because there will be people there who care about the community and we shouldn’t be afraid to let them know what is going on in the community,” he said. “It would be nice if somebody from other organizations would come out and come together to let people know what’s going on. If you have information to share, give me a call and I will pick up and you don’t have to show up.”

Glenn’s forum, “Communication about Immigrants in our Community,” will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Wingate by Wyndham Hotel at 175 W. Market St. in Lima.

Reach Jacob Espinosa at 567-242-0399.