Six questions with Welcome Dayton’s Melissa Bertolo.
Melissa Bertolo is the program coordinator of Welcome Dayton, a community initiative that reflects the philosophy that people with diverse backgrounds, skills and experiences fuel the nation’s success.
The Welcome Dayton effort promotes immigrant integration into the greater Dayton region by encouraging business and economic development; providing access to education, government, health and social services; ensuring equity in the justice system; and promoting an appreciation of arts and culture.
What’s the most common question you get asked about Welcome Dayton?
A couple of questions that we get asked frequently are, “Who are the immigrants in Dayton and where are they coming from?” And, “Why Dayton?” And part of that is because we’re not considered a traditional gateway city and so immigrants don’t come to Dayton first. They are in other areas of the country and then choose to move to Dayton because of the affordability, because of employment opportunities and because of friends and family that already live here in the Dayton area.
Why is it so important to promote immigrant integration in the region?
Two different reasons. One is the fact that this is part of who we are. It’s really important to make sure that those immigrants that are coming to our community are being treated fairly and have the same access to services as native-born residents. Another reason is looking at the economic value of immigrants in our community. Dayton has had a population increase, and part of that is related to the growth of our immigrant population, and so recognizing that there is certainly an increased tax base. And then we’re looking at the fact that immigrants are more likely to start their own business and be entrepreneurs. So making sure that those that come to Dayton are able to reach their fullest potential is important because then everyone benefits.
Have you had any involvement with the refugee crisis in Europe?
The refugee crisis in Europe is certainly one of the most tragic things to witness. The resettlement process in the United States is a little bit different than what Europe experiences. The United States is considered a third country of resettlement and so the process for the United States to receive refugees from Syria is a lot slower than what other countries are experiencing. It can take up to a year. We don’t expect to receive them immediately and we certainly haven’t received any this year either. The city of Dayton, through Catholic Social Services, resettles around 220 individuals annually as refugees. So with the increase that the president has said we will accept an additional number of Syrian refugees we don’t expect a large increase in our population. It might be an additional 20 people that we resettle in Dayton, so it really won’t be a dramatic increase based on what we’ve previously gotten.
How do you like to unwind?
I really enjoy running. I’m actually doing a half marathon this weekend. And I’ve also done a couple of triathlons as well. So swimming, biking and running is my idea of fun.
What’s your favorite event in Dayton?
I don’t necessarily know if I have one favorite one, but I love all of the summer festivals.
If you could go anywhere in the world where would it be?
It would probably be to Italy. My grandfather was an immigrant from Italy and we have family there still that I would really like to meet.