On Thursday, Sept. 24, Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman ’92 spoke at John Carroll University’s campus about his current efforts to assist refugees in the city of Cleveland.
After graduating college, Cimperman travelled to Maine, where he volunteered with cognitively challenged adults. At that point in time, he had ambitions of becoming a Jesuit. He achieved success and gained experience, bringing both competencies with him to Baltimore where he worked for a year at the Don Miller House, a hospice for those with AIDS.
Cimperman explains that, after these experiences, he was not sure where he fit or what he wanted to do with his life. He decided to run for city council, where he has served Cleveland since 1997.
Cimperman now sees his purpose. He works with bankers and developers to renew bad neighborhoods and turn them into safe and convenient places for refugees to live. They are currently working on a neighborhood in the Clark Metro area by Thomas Jefferson Newcomer Academy that draws from areas like Parma and Euclid. Students there are accepted and helped despite language barriers. Students come from all over the globe: the Congo, Iraq, Nepal, Puerto Rico and El Salvador. In addition, 50 students are expected soon from Syria. Along with the language barriers they face, 95 percent of these students must take multiple buses to get to school.
The neighborhood around the school once contained 150 completely abandoned houses.
“The abandonment of the homes has created a real pall in the community,” said Cimperman. Fortunately, Cimperman’s team is working on its 100th house, and families associated with the school will be moving in soon. “This is a neighborhood worth investing in,” he said.
However, not everyone has been supportive of Cimperman’s efforts. He has received criticism from Clevelanders who argue that they should be cared for before refugees. However, Cimperman has faith in the positive effect that these families will bring to the area and is continuing on with his plans. He hopes that people will realize that “all of us came from somewhere else.”
Cimperman works with a team that includes the International Services Center, US Together and Catholic Charities. He praises their work and their help. “The city of Cleveland gets 600 refugees a year,” said Cimperman. “We’re petitioning the Department of State in the next month to accept 1500 people a year.”
Thinking of the future, Cimperman’s team is currently looking at several other neighborhoods to transform.
“My fear is that, in five years, the refugees won’t be able to afford that neighborhood because the transition from nothing to everything will be so complete…it will become a really hot neighborhood in Cleveland,” said Cimperman.
At the end of the presentation, Cimperman opened the floor for questions. Some topics that were covered included gun violence, the Lake Erie algae bloom and community leaders. Freshman Crystal Hajek said she enjoyed Cimperman’s talk about his determination and progress in his endeavors to help the city. “Councilman Joe Cimperman gave me a different perspective on many issues in the Cleveland area, and his dedication to helping Cleveland inspired me,” said Hajek.
Junior Alex Ehrett also admired Cimperman’s achievements. “He is a great example of someone who has taken his John Carroll education and ran with it,” said Ehrett. “It was very encouraging for me to see someone with a similar background to myself doing so well in public service.”