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Welcoming Week: Global Cleveland highlights immigrants who are making a difference

Every year, cities across the U.S. honor newcomers who come to our country to start new lives.

CLEVELAND — For the past 10 years, cities across the United States take a week in September to highlight newcomers and immigrants in their towns.

Right here at home? Global Cleveland's Welcoming Week will do the same.

Global Cleveland President Joe Cimperman spoke to us ahead of the event:

"These are people right now who are in the operating rooms, you know, who are delivering packages, who are working in restaurants, who are really part of our community and our economy."

Cleveland is a welcoming town. We're friendly. We open our homes to those who need help, And, that's exactly what Global Cleveland wants newcomers to feel when they arrive here to start their new lives.

“What Welcoming Week does, is it says, 'This may not be your first home, but it is your home now,'" Cimperman said.

This year, Welcoming Week is virtual. From September 11-18, participants will take part in health panels, ethnic cooking demonstrations and listen to international music guests.

Plus, there's also a drive-in naturalization ceremony. The initiative is close to Cimperman's heart.

“I'm going to get emotional with you. My mom came here from another country. Our family basically lived its life in an immigrant neighborhood," he shared. “If you want to feel America in her beauty and her greatness and her power, if you go to a naturalization ceremony, and you see these individuals who come from all over the world, and they're choosing us.”

Jenika Gonzales, 29, chose Northeast Ohio at just 14 years old. But her mother began the process years earlier.

Credit: Credit: Jenika Gonzales

“I think around 98', my mom left us in the Philippines. I was seven years old," Jenika shared.

Her mother moved to L.A., working four jobs, sending every penny to her four children so they could come to the U.S. for a better life.

“I was 14 years old. I was so afraid," Jenika told us. “I think the culture was just so different. I went to a private school thanks to my mom because, she was, you know, working really hard."

It was an unfamiliar world, but Jenika was determined to thrive in it. She went to the Cleveland Institute of Art, then to Tri-C to earn a degree in graphic design.

“I just kind of hustled. I worked with bands, I worked for local artists, you know, I kind of just built up my portfolio and connections," Jenika said.

Now, she works for Global Cleveland. She doesn't take for granted the experiences it's afforded her.

“I think it's just an amazing intersection of journey and just the compilation of all the things that I experienced, now embodied in one organization," Jenika shared.

She's also teamed up with her mom -- going all the way back to her roots. Together, they make a Filipino dish called Lumpia, trying to make it popular in Cleveland.

She's got an Instagram page, and some of the profits have helped paid for lawyers dedicated to bringing other family members to the U.S.

Looking back, Jenika says choosing *this* home was worth it.

“We do it for our families. You know, I wasn't going to cry. But I do it for my mom ... for her sacrifice."

For more on Global Cleveland's Welcoming Week, click HERE.

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