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Toledo has shown me its essence through its people.

My first taste of Toledo happened in December 2005. After being displaced by Hurricane Katrina for months, my husband and I stopped to eat at the original Tony Packo’s while passing through Ohio on our long-awaited journey back to our home in New Orleans. I wish I could say I had a premonition that, a decade later, I’d call Toledo home. Not so. The only thing that stuck out to me (aside from the signed hot dog buns on the wall, which I must admit are awesome) was how friendly the people were to us “Katrina refugees.” At the time, however, I assumed I perceived this friendliness only because I craved being back in the South after an unexpected stint on the East Coast.

Now, I know that the people of Toledo open their homes and their city to everyone.

I teach at the University of Toledo College of Law, where I spend my days around law students whose energy and enthusiasm inspire me. And a big part of my job is researching law & technology issues – and writing long, fascinating (read: boring) articles in local coffee shops. But Toledo has given me much more than just professional fulfillment and access to caffeine. Toledo has shown me its essence through its people: my amazing coworkers who helped my family get to know the area, the neighbors who wave to each other on walks, and the Old Orchard family group that gives us an avenue for human connection.

Last year, I was proud to learn that Toledo is one of a handful of cities welcoming refugees from Syria. And as the national climate towards immigrants took a more negative turn, I decided to find a way to get involved personally. Truth is, I emigrated to the US as a political refugee from Poland (my father was a political prisoner after fighting communism in the Solidarity movement). We settled in Northern California with a few suitcases and started from scratch when I was a kid. So I understand at least in part what it takes to feel welcome and supported in a new place. Rebuilding a life requires help from the community and a sense that you’re genuinely welcome here.

This, to me, is why I’m part of Gather Toledo, an organization that sets up dinner parties for immigrant families and locals. I want to counteract negativity by building community. Gather Toledo is one of the ways I’ve found to do this. I am inspired by the laughter and warmth at the dinners I’ve attended. I am inspired by my co-founder Sara Fulton, who is doing the heavy lifting in planning events and approaches every task with openness and passion. I am inspired by the stories of the families we meet. I have found refuge in the generosity of this community.

My kindergartner usually joins me at Gather Toledo dinners – a pint-sized ambassador of sorts. As she and I left our first dinner with an Iraqi family last December, she told me: “the best days of my life are when I get to meet new people.” The people of Toledo have a special capacity to lift each other up. And this, Toledo, is what I love about you.

 

We caught up with Agnieszka at the new coffee shop at Cricket West, SIP. She loves having a new vibrant coffee shop right on the boundary of her beloved neighborhood, Old Orchard. Being welcoming is part of Agnieszka core and this shines in every aspect of her life, but where it most evident is through her work the Gather Toledo. Gather Toledo’s mission is to welcome our local area refugees and immigrants to Toledo by building connections and friendships. This mission is achieved by community members opening their homes to host dinner parties, welcoming refugees and immigrants to share in a night of food, culture, and conversation. If you wish to become part of the Gather Toledo family find their contact details on their Facebook page: here

 

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