Voting: A Right and a Privilege

It was great to see the flurry of activity down the hall this past week as the Midwood International & Cultural Center was designated as an early voting site.

Tanja Voting

Tanja Pauler

We particularly celebrated the day that one of our newest staff members, AmeriCorps Member Tanja Pauler, voted in the U.S. for the first time. Originally from Serbia, Tanja recently became a naturalized U.S. citizen and was eager to take advantage of her newly earned right to vote for candidates of her choice.

Unfortunately, many native-born U.S. citizens don’t exercise this important right. Statistics show that the average voter turnout in the US during a Presidential election is only 48% and even less in years when no Presidential election is held. This means that the US is ranked 120th out of 169 countries.

In other places, voter turnout is much higher. For instance, 81% of eligible voters in Norway go to the polls, and this high turnout occurs in a country where political advertising on radio and television is banned!

Today is another election day where U.S. citizens have the opportunity to vote for candidates that represent the policies they support. It is easy to let cynicism, the political polarization in Washington, and disgust at the onslaught of negative TV ads become excuses for not participating in our democratic process.

But, don’t let important issues be decided by a fraction of those eligible to vote! Visit International House and be inspired by those who have waited many years to become U.S. citizens and are overjoyed to finally have the privilege of voting. You will be reminded that there are many places around the world where people have much less voice in determining the leadership and direction of their countries.

If you haven’t already done so, I hope you will exercise your right to vote today!

Do You Believe?

Do You Believe?
From Denise Cumbee Long, Executive Director of International House

I recently made a presentation about International House at a local rotary club meeting. Afterwards, one of the members came up to me and exclaimed, “Wow! I saw your financials in your annual report. I am amazed at how much you guys do with a very modest budget. It’s really impressive!”

It’s true. International House serves thousands of people every year through our immigration law clinic, education programs, cultural events, and international visitor programs, and we do it on a small budget through the hard work of a small dedicated staff and many great volunteers. We are able to survive and grow because of the support of people like you who believe in the importance of what we do.

We have just launched our summer fundraising campaign and hope you will take a moment to think about the value of International House to the Charlotte community, and indeed to the world. Does our work reflect what you believe to be true?

Do you believe that Charlotte is richer for its global connections and our diverse international communities? Do you think our world is a more peaceful place when citizens of different countries share a meal, exchange ideas, and learn from one another? Do you believe the words of the Statue of Liberty still ring true: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free”? Do you want to see compassionate assistance offered to those who have escaped danger and hardship and are working hard to learn English and become self-sufficient citizens?

If so, then we hope you believe in the power of what International House has been doing every day since 1981. Today’s economic climate is not kind to nonprofits. International House receives no United Way funding and cannot survive on private or government grants alone. The generosity of our supporters is critical for us to continue to be the place where Charlotte welcomes the world. We know there are many of you out there who believe in us! Please take a moment to click on the link below and make your gift today!

Donate Online Here

Thank you!



Telling Our Story


Photo Source:

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!

International House to Join New Charlotte Task Force


As a leading organization in the Charlotte international community, International House has been invited to participate in the City of Charlotte’s newly created Immigrant Integration Task Force.  Created by City Council resolution in November, the Task Force is intended to be an inter-agency effort that will evaluate and recommend ways to maximize immigrants’ economic and civic contributions to Charlotte.

We are very pleased to be included in this initiative along with other community stakeholders who are representative of the diversity of people living and working in the Queen City.  The Task Force will soon begin a research and discovery process that will be used to craft recommendations for creating City services and partnerships that will help immigrants better integrate into the community.  The Task Force will also make recommendations regarding the creation of opportunities for economic and civic contributions of immigrants.

Jennifer Watson Roberts, President of International House’s Board of Directors, will be our official representative to the Task Force.  We applaud the members of the City Council, former Mayor Patsy Kinsey, and Mayor Patrick Cannon for their leadership in creating this Task Force and recognizing the need for new momentum in discerning  the role that the City can play in providing a framework for Charlotte’s immigrant populations to help expand our local economy and enrich civic life.

Here at International House, we have seen first-hand the many contributions that Charlotte’s newest citizens are making to our community.  Charlotte’s foreign-born population has increased dramatically from 23,000 in 1990 to over 173,000 residents in 2011. This means that immigrants of all skill levels are active participants in Charlotte’s economy.  It also means that finding ways to assist immigrants in better integrating into Charlotte’s neighborhoods, education system, industries and businesses benefits everyone.  We are proud to contribute to this new initiative that will help Charlotte continue to be a globally competitive city with a colorful mix of neighbors building a healthy community for all!

Happy New Year!


By: Denise Long, Executive Director

The ancient Roman god, Janus, the namesake of the month of January, had one face looking backward and another gazing forward into the future. New year celebrations all over the world seem to have this same quality of reflecting on the past and hoping for happy days ahead.

As I consider the past year at International House, I am struck by the fact that we have been at our new home in the Midwood International & Cultural Center for over a year now. It has been a remarkable feat to transform an empty former high school into a vibrant campus of cultural, international, and civic organizations serving the Charlotte community. We could not have done it without the hard work, perseverance, and “can do” spirit of many people. I am immensely grateful for the efforts of Monte Ritchey, Tony & Lakana Bikhazi, the International House Board of Directors and staff, and the generous donors who made it possible. Last January, the auditorium was filled with hundreds of people who attended our first Open House, as we celebrated with food and cultural performances from several of our Midwood tenants. Stay tuned for our 2014 Open House later this spring!

International House blossomed in 2013 with more offerings of ESL and citizenship classes, better services for our legal clients, new partnerships with international visitor programs such as the recent collaborative venture with the Charlotte School of Law for annual delegations of Turkish judges, and an expansion of our summer English tutoring program for children that reached almost 200 students at 3 schools. We also added new languages to our roster of Language Conversation Hours, with Arabic and Turkish the most recent additions. Cultural programs in 2013 offered something for everyone: Doorways, our monthly social group for international women, an international book club, and a variety of events ranging from Gypsy/Roma music and dance to our popular international potluck “Front Porch Party”.

Indeed, 2013 was a good year for International House and for the thousands of people who found the legal or educational help they needed, met a new friend, or gained a better understanding of global culture. But, like Janus, we are also facing into a bright new year. So much lies ahead in 2014. I hope you will join us for the ride!

Getting to know the “Girl Next Door”

Nina Davuluri, recently crowned the first Indian-American woman to win the Miss America Pageant, was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about her experience. Davuluri spoke about her feelings of elation and pride, as well as her sadness at seeing the racist tweets that followed her crowning. She also talked about her response to a tough interview question during the pageant:  “So that’s why I said what I did, about always viewing Miss America as the ‘Girl Next Door,’ and that the girl next door is evolving as the diversity of America evolves. She’s not who she was 10 years ago, and she’s not going to be the same 10 years down the road.”

At International House, we believe that the “Girl Next Door” has many faces, and they are all beautiful. Our society is enriched by the diversity of cultures that are part of the fabric of who we are as a nation. This is why America is the country we have chosen to feature at our 25th Anniversary Gala. As Martin Luther King put it, “We may have come here by different boats. But we are all on the same boat now.”

Immigrants and international guests are a valued part of our community. Miss Davuluri won her pageant by celebrating her own roots. She ran on a platform of “diversity through cultural sensitivity,” performing a Bollywood dance during the talent competition.

“I grew up watching Miss America for years and years, and as the daughter of immigrants, I always thought to myself that I could never be that — because I didn’t look a certain way; I didn’t fit the model of what was up there on that screen,” Davuluri said. “And it shouldn’t be about race, it shouldn’t — but it is. To be able to stand up there, and be an example for other little girls that America is now a very different place, that’s everything to me.”

America is a different place, but unfortunately, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment is still very much with us. Just last week, one of our distinguished international visitors, a jurist from Africa, was enjoying lunch with the rest of his delegation at a local restaurant in a small shopping center. He decided to go outside and stroll around but was accosted by an angry man who told him that he looked “suspicious”. The man then proceeded to call the police. Although the police were apologetic after they arrived (and our international guest was extremely gracious), it was still an ugly incident. Fortunately, our guest also experienced the hospitality and generosity that is the true nature of the Queen City, so we believe he left with an impression that was generally a favorable one.

Here at International House, we want to showcase the best of American spirit and values: tolerance, freedom, welcome, and respect. We work hard to help Charlotte’s newest citizens successfully integrate into their new community, and we also strive to build international understanding and appreciation for cultural diversity. “The Girl Next Door”, and her brother, are some of the people we see every day. And we are glad they are our neighbors!

YETP 2013

By: Denise Long, Executive Director


Walk the hallways of Merry Oaks Elementary School and listen. Children’s voices rise and fall as they play vocabulary bingo or a game about verbs. Laughter punctuates the lessons. There is the scramble of feet as one of the lead teachers in a nearby classroom announces a snack break. Music filters from another classroom where children dance the “Hokey Pokey” and learn the correct English names for various body parts. Then, take a drive over to Pinewood or Montclaire Elementary School and hear the same sounds repeated. I guarantee you will leave with a lighter step and a smile on your lips!

This is the fourth year that International House has offered a summer Youth English Tutoring Program (YETP) to children in Charlotte who struggle to keep pace with their peers due to limited English proficiency. Many children in the CMS school system lose language proficiency over the summer while staying at home in a non-English speaking household. In Mecklenburg County, 13.5% of the County’s residents are foreign-born, and enrollment of language-minority students in the CMS system is at an all time high. CMS does not currently offer ESL summer programs for elementary school children, although there are programs at the middle and high school levels.

International House’s Youth English Tutoring Program (YETP) helps fill the gap by providing free English tutoring during the summer break for low-income immigrant children who do not speak English at home. YETP has blossomed through the years. Our initial pilot program was offered during the summer of 2010 and assisted 36 children with English language skills in a 3 week program. In 2011, International House began a partnership with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools  to better identify students most in need of English tutoring and to offer the program on-site at a local elementary school. There were 106 participants in two three-week sessions.  Last year (2012), the CMS partnership was further expanded to include two schools, 145 students, and more instruction hours (six week instead of three week sessions).

Our current program is now taking place at 3 elementary schools with over 200 children enjoying a fun-filled summer of learning  The YETP model matches a trained tutor with small groups of children for a 6 week half-day program. Each of the participating schools also has site coordinators and lead teachers  who supervise the tutors  and assist with student recruitment, placement and testing. The site coordinators and lead teachers are familiar with the children at each school and can offer individualized attention to a child’s particular learning needs.

The results are impressive.  Test scores show that children do not lose English fluency over the summer but rather increase an average of 15 to 25%.  And, perhaps just as importantly, the children receive the encouragement and support of adult teachers and mentors who believe in them and encourage them to succeed.

International House is extremely grateful for the support of the funders who have made YETP possible: the Belk Foundation, PNC Bank Foundation, and the Duke Energy Foundation.  Kudos should also go to Education Director, Gail Johnson, whose passion, enthusiasm, and community connections have played a large part in YETP’s ongoing success.

For many children in Charlotte, the chance to attend a fun and educational summer camp is a distant dream due to cost and transportation barriers. YETP is a dream come true for over 200 children are learning to love English, as well as their new home in America.