Yvonne Johnson, Welcoming Fort Wayne Emerging Leader Award recipient

Yvonne Johnson, co-founder of Bukal Beverage Co., receives the Welcoming Fort Wayne Emerging Leader Award at Sept. 19’s Diversity Awards.

It is easy to lose sight of diversity’s many other benefits when northeast Indiana’s labor market is so tight that its employers eagerly welcome every new worker to the region with open arms.

With unemployment rates of 2.8%, for example, Steuben and Wells counties were among the 10 reporting the lowest July rates in the state, according to the latest data available from Indiana Workforce Development.

The 2019 Welcoming Fort Wayne Diversity Awards presentation at Purdue University Fort Wayne served as a reminder of those other benefits when it took place Sept. 19.

“Diversity stimulates creativity, promotes the exchange of ideas, and enriches our campus life,” Purdue Fort Wayne Chancellor Ronald Elsenbaumer said during the event’s opening remarks.

“The term ‘diversity’ encompasses differences of culture, background, and experience among individuals and groups,” he said. “Such differences include but are not limited to gender, class, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, political and religious affiliation, social-economic status, and most important to today’s topic of discussion, race, ethnicity or color.

“Purdue Fort Wayne does not simply recognize diversity, we appreciate the vital contribution that immigrants and refugees add to our home,” he said. “Nurturing a diverse and educated workforce is not just the right thing to do, it is essential for securing and growing the future of our already thriving community.”

Midway through the second annual event, Melissa Rinehart of Welcoming Fort Wayne and Wellspring Interfaith spoke of the exceptional work ethic of her grandfather, who immigrated to the United States from Belgium.

“He’s not unique in the sense that his work ethic was and is quite common for immigrant families,” she said.

A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Law School went through 30 years of employment data and found that statistically, immigrants have a stronger work ethic, Rinehart said.

This was “exemplified by their diligence on the job, their punctuality, their reliability, their cooperativeness, their respect of colleagues, their loyalty to employers and their willingness to go the extra mile by working an average of 49 full-time weeks per year, which is 14 more weeks than the dominant culture,” she said.

Rinehart presented data that expanded on findings of a 2018 New American Economy study conducted for Welcoming Fort Wayne and its sponsor, the Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County.

It showed that in northeast Indiana, immigrants comprised a 7.6% share of the region’s workforce in manufacturing, 7.1% in construction, 6.5% in hospitality and recreation, 5.8% in transportation and warehousing and 4.7% in entrepreneurship, with their emerging businesses generating $26.2 million annually in income.

“You can see what the immigrant population is in northeast Indiana — just shy of 5%, a small but mighty portion of our community,” Rinehart said.

“But, while the economic contributions of immigrants are unparalleled, today’s more about the contributions they make in our community.”

A city attorney read a proclamation at the event from Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry designating Sept. 19 Welcoming Fort Wayne Day and encouraging local businesses, civic groups and residents to build a welcoming and neighborly atmosphere in our communities where all people are valued.

It noted that immigrants and refugees account for almost 25% of our region’s population growth, helping to boost the local workforce and fuel the economy.

It said fostering a welcoming environment for everyone regardless of race, ethnicity or country of origin improves Fort Wayne’s cultural fabric, economic growth and global competitiveness as well as prosperity for current and future generations.

Many award recipients were attending the event to show support for its sponsor organizations and were unaware that they were going to be honored there.

Ahmed Abdelmageed, recipient of the Social Justice Award, and Yvonne Johnson, recipient of the Emerging Leader Award, were among them.

Johnson is co-founder of Bukal Beverage Co. and Abdelmageed is assistant dean of alumni and community engagement for Manchester University’s School of Pharmacy, Natural and Health Sciences.

“I’m simply honored to be in your presence; you are what makes America great,” Abdelmageed said. “This has been completely unexpected, I truly appreciate it, and as always, we may individually pray for peace, but we must all fight for justice.”

“Thank you for making Fort Wayne the best city to live in. And, to Welcoming Fort Wayne, thank you for the recognition,” Johnson said.

“I thought no one knew what I was doing in the community, so thank you for the recognition. It’s a huge surprise and completely unexpected, but it truly does mean so much to me, so thank you so much.”

The Storyteller Award was new, and it went to Aaron Robles, the founder of Founders Spark, an entrepreneurial support organization in Fort Wayne.

“I am an immigrant from Mexico, currently under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). It took me a long time to find the courage to share my story. There’s shame, and when you’re growing up different, that’s the last thing you want to be, right. High school can be a little rough,” he said.

“When I learned to tell people what made me different and my experiences I saw not only what it did to others but what it did to me and the courage that spread. I think a lot of people don’t realize the power they have with their own personal journeys, their stories,” he said.

“We all have something worth sharing. We all have something that can teach, educate, and broaden people’s horizons. So it’s important for everyone to recognize that their story is worth telling,” Robles said. “I think we’re going to find out we’re very similar in many ways and we can learn to celebrate those differences.”

Other award recipients are:

• Positive Role Model, Farah Combs, continuing lecturer and coordinator of the Arabic Program at Purdue University Fort Wayne

• Community Organization, Laura Pontius of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic

• Entrepreneur of Excellence, Samuel Melo of SpanicUS Interpretation Services

• Diverse Employer, George Rongos of George’s International Market

• Lifetime Achiever, Ana Guisti of the Center for Nonviolence

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