IF YOU GO
• What: World Refugee Day
• When: 4-7 p.m. June 20
• Where: H*ART Gallery, 110 E. Main St., Chattanooga
Chattanooga's weather is much nicer than Somalia's, according to Abshir Noor.
The Somali refugee arrived here one month ago with his wife and two children. He said the Scenic City is a bit more welcoming than the persecution that sent him here, too.
"The people are always nice and very helpful," he said through a translator.
Noor is one of hundreds of refugees and immigrants who come to Chattanooga every year. After they get to the country, their struggles can continue for months as they try to adapt and pin down American necessities such as driver's licenses, bank accounts and school enrollment.
That's where the Helping All Nationalities Diversity Society Across Chattanooga Welcome Fair comes in.
The annual free event, put on last night by the city Multicultural Affairs office, brings together agencies such as the post office and the Chattanooga Housing Authority to give new residents a single place for everything they need to get life started in the city.
"It is very amazing that there are so many different services and people," Noor said.
And those services are needed. There are people from about 115 countries who speak more than 50 languages and dialects in the city, according to Multicultural Affairs Director Beverly Cosley.
"Chattanooga needs to wake up," she said. "We have changed from what we used to be, and we now are internationally known."
With several large employers such as Volkswagen and Amazon opening in Chattanooga, she expects the number of immigrants to increase.
"It's the location, it's the jobs and it's the opportunity for growth," she said. "Chattanooga's in the spotlight."
Marina Peshterianu, office coordinator of Bridge Refugee Services in Chattanooga, is ready to handle that spotlight.
With volunteer support, her office takes on about 120 of the 2,000 refugees who come to Tennessee every year, she said. HANDS Across Chattanooga helps local refugees connect with the social services they need to land on their feet after their move here.
"There's a misconception; nobody wants to be a refugee," she said. "They want to work. They don't want to be on any social programs."
That sentiment holds true for Noor.
"I would like to be self-sufficient one day," he said. "I want to take care of my family."