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Published in Economic Development

Kent County names first coordinator of immigrant, refugee Welcome Plan

BY Tuesday, June 07, 2022 02:46pm

Kent County has appointed Hollin De La Cruz as its welcome plan coordinator, a newly created position to oversee the county’s formal efforts to welcome immigrants and refugees.

The position is a result of a Welcome Plan released in 2020 by the Kent County Welcome Plan Steering Committee, a group of officials from Kent County, the city of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Samaritas and the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Hollin De La Cruz. COURTESY PHOTO

The two-and-a-half-year effort to create the plan included focus groups and surveys of hundreds of people in the area’s immigrant community. The report includes recommendations and goals for employers and individuals to address immigrants’ main priorities and concerns, which include the ability to work in a desired profession, maintaining culture, religion and traditions, and achieving a desired level of English.

The Welcome Plan also addresses the need to ensure New Americans’ sense of safety, which includes “enhancing relationships and communication between New Americans and law enforcement to better serve and protect the community and keep officers safe,” according to the plan. 

Strained police-community relations have been an ongoing issue in Kent County, and most recently after a Grand Rapids police officer shot and killed Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old Congolese refugee, on April 4 on Grand Rapids’ southeast side. 

The countywide Welcome Plan plan also addresses barriers in immigration integration for civic engagement, economic development, safe and connected communities, education and equitable access to services. 

Released in 2020, the Welcome Plan highlighted immigrants’ economic force in the region, showing that more than 55,000 Kent County immigrants paid $376 million in taxes in 2018 and contributed $1.1 billion in spending power. The top five countries of origin for immigrants at the time were Mexico, Guatemala, Vietnam, Bosnia and Canada.

However, the plan’s implementation, including hiring a coordinator to oversee the process, was stalled during the pandemic.

“There is a necessity to oversee the convening of those parties and ensure the voices of the community leaders in the refugee and immigrant community are centered in how it is implemented,” Tarah Carnahan, executive director and co-founder of Treetops Collective, a local nonprofit that connects refugees to community resources, told MiBiz in April.

De La Cruz will be tasked with working with community leaders to implement the plan’s recommendations and strategies under the direction of the Welcome Plan Steering Committee.

“I’m excited to work with the steering committee and our community partners to bring the Welcome plan to fruition,” De La Cruz said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring our region is welcoming and inclusive for all and bringing meaningful change to New Americans.”

De La Cruz starts in the new role on June 13. She previously served as a program navigator for the Integrated English Literacy and Crisis Education grant for Kent ISD Adult Education. De La Cruz has a bachelor’s degree in French from Grand Valley State University, an associate degree from Grand Rapids Community College, and is proficient in Spanish and French.

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Read 1738 times Last modified on Wednesday, 08 June 2022 08:50
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