I grew up in a magical land.

Dear Toledo,

I grew up in a magical land, us who hark from the 419 refer to as the North End. In this magical land, to this young girl, your forests were enchanted, your footprints of industry through endless railroads were passageways to new adventures, your swamplands were a playground of possibility full of fiery dragons (dragonflies) and sea serpents (salamanders). I remember finding heaps of golden treasure through my magical forest adventures: hubcaps, old tires, box springs, cars set on fire.

When my bicycle would get stolen- enter stage right an antagonist!

When our windows would get broken- the plot thickens!

Toledo, I give you the beauty of perception.

As I grew older, the love and beauty I once held for you faded. I experienced many things you had to offer and as some homegrown Toledoans do, felt the need to escape. And that I did.

I escaped to a far away land the local yinzers referred to as The Burgh. I loved my life, I grew, but I too grew to miss you. I missed your beautiful flat, predictable topography. I missed the smell of the BP oil refinery as I was hiking through the Laurel Highlands inhaling beautiful fresh crisp air. I missed the mesmerizing orange glow of construction cones lining the freeway. I missed your green algae-bloomin waters. It’s the little things, after all.

Plot twist. I came home to you, Toledo. Your swamp princess returned, older and wiser. I now perceive that same beauty in you that I once did as a young girl. I see your potential. I see your beauty in the people of Toledo who strive to do better not only for themselves, but for others as well.

I also see those new to this land, who may have difficulty seeing beauty in a time of despair. These individuals are those seeking hope, as refugees in a new land. Embracing the spirit that I had as a young girl, I imagined what could be done to show your beauty and the hope you can offer to them, Toledo.

With the help and support of local community agencies and like-minded individuals- enter stage right, Gather Toledo. Gather Toledo welcomes refugees and immigrants to the 419 through facilitating dinner parties at community members’ homes. Since the start of Gather Toledo in December of 2016, I have seen so many smiles, I have heard so much laughter, I have seen cultural barriers broken and hope repaired. My youthful perception of Toledo as a land of possibility was right on script, spare the fiery dragons and sea serpents. No enchantments are needed as Toledo’s beauty is shown through the willingness of volunteers and abundance of compassion for our refugees gathered around the dinner table. Join us as we continue to write our story…

Be our guest, Toledo 🌹

With love,

Sara Fulton

Gather Toledo Coordinator

We caught up with Sara at downtown’s Rustbelt Coffee, where she loves the decor and wishes her house could look the same! She set up a table with all the place settings, like she does every month with Gather Toledo during which a recent refugee or immigrant family joins a local family for dinner, friendship bonding and merrymaking. For more details about the organization, and how to get involved see here