By: Denise Cumbee Long, Executive Director
When I am out in the community and asked about International House, I am reminded of the importance of a good “elevator speech”. Often, someone will ask me what I do, and that is easy enough to answer: I am the Executive Director of International House, an incredible nonprofit organization that has been part of the Charlotte landscape for over 30 years. But, then the next question is a bit harder: “That’s nice. But what does International House do?”
What is the short answer to that question? International House is not a typical nonprofit with one focus that can easily be described in the span of an elevator ride. We are not a school, law firm, food pantry or homeless shelter. We do not simply address one issue or one area of human need. Rather, we are an interesting blend of programs and direct services that benefit foreign-born residents of Charlotte, international guests, and native Charlotteans. It is a challenge to sum up the good things we do in a few words!
However, I find that the best answer I can give to the curious person standing across from me in an elevator, at a social event or in a professional meeting is this: International House is the place where Charlotte welcomes the world. We do this in two ways. First, we provide direct services to low-income immigrants and refugees in order to help them become self-sufficient members of their new home country and city. Our legal clinic helps those with a path to citizenship gain legal status. With legal status comes better employment and family stability. For example, some of our clients have come to us virtually homeless, become naturalized U.S. citizens, and then gone on to start successful businesses. Learning English is also crucial for a newly arrived immigrant or refugee to become independent and self-sufficient. Our educational programs not only help these newest Charlotte residents learn English but also assist them with basic life skills and how to navigate the city’s systems and services.
The second way that International House “welcomes the world” is through our focus on building international understanding. We strive to promote Charlotte as a global city and celebrate the increasingly international aspect of this evolving, dynamic community. Our cultural and international visitor programs introduce native Charlotteans to high level professional and student leaders from around the world. And, we offer great opportunities to learn about other languages and cultures through language conversation hours, international book groups, and Doorways, a social group for international women.
The elevator has arrived at the bottom floor. Most of the time, the curious stranger smiles and tells me that International House sounds like an amazing organization. We often exchange business cards, and sometimes there are interesting conversations and partnerships that emerge later. Telling International House’s story is something I am always happy to do. Perhaps you can help us spread the word, too!