Issue: March/April 2010
Community Impact Awards: Vision Quest
Rodney and Jodi Matthews have found ways to help Myanmar refugees succeed in their new Akron home.
For most children, the school day ends at 2:30 p.m. For Ni Doh Gay-Htoo, however, the most exciting time of the day is just beginning.
On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, the 11-year-old refugee from Myanmar attends Urban Vision’s Set on Success, one of several after-school learning programs offered by the Akron nonprofit where he gets additional help in reading, math and English.
Ni Doh’s family was part of the more than 275 Karen people from Myanmar who were resettled in North Akron by the United Nations due to that county’s oppressive military rule. That was 2007 and Ni Doh knew just a few English words. Today, he is among the best students in the Set on Success program.
Maybe more that that, though, Ni Doh’s interests are similar to many children his age. “I like soccer, and I like Math,” he says.
That’s rewarding for Rodney Matthews and his wife, Jodi, who founded Urban Vision in 1992 to assist low income, inner city youth and families in the Elizabeth Park and North Hill communities. Two years ago, they expanded their programs to include English classes and other programs to assist the Karen children and their parents and help remove the barriers they might have for success in school or finding employment.
“We have always tried to stay focused on community and going deep within the community,” says Rodney Matthews.
Since opening, 70 children from those original immigrants have participated in programs and services offered by Urban Vision.
Last year, Urban Vision began offering classes for adults. Each Saturday approximately 40 people attend ESL classes. Because of its success, a second class was added on Tuesday nights.
The changes in the Karen community are evident, says Matthews. As language skills improve, so do their job opportunities. And the children’s enthusiasm for English pushes the parents to learn, too.
It’s a momentum Urban Visions seeks to use in other ways as well. Volunteers come from the University of Akron, local churches and Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy. The organization’s home, a 34,000-square-foot building in North Hill, was vacant for more than a year and is now a central presence in the neighborhood, even providing church services.
“No resources go outside of the community,” Williams says. “If you’re on staff, you are going to live in the neighborhood, you’re going to know the same issues your neighbor has. The people you serve are your neighbors.”
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