Pilot program for immigrants comes to Fort Wayne

A San Francisco-based nonprofit group has chosen Allen County as one of six pilot sites to promote awareness of immigrant-related issues.

Active Voice, which tapped United Way of Allen County for the program, distributes films and other visual programs about social issues facing immigrants.

"Prejudice and misunderstanding about why they are here _ that's the key issue," said Jerry Peterson, the local United Way chapter's director of community investment.

A growing population of immigrants is why Allen County is one of six communities nationwide chosen by Active Voice, said Kanwarpal Dhaliwal, the organization's community campaign coordinator.

The other pilot sites are in: Des Moines, Iowa; Greensboro, N.C.; Fresno, Calif., Kansas City, Mo.; and St. Paul, Minn.

Ted Okendu, who headed the human resources department at an international bank in Lagos, Nigeria, said he has struggled since settling in Fort Wayne.

"I believed the United States is heaven on Earth _ a land of great opportunities where the sky is the only limit," Okendu said. "That was not real."

Before becoming a substitute teacher in Fort Wayne Community Schools and a lecturer at the Fort Wayne branch of Concordia University Wisconsin, Okendu worked as a bartender and floor cleaner at a hotel to support his wife and three children.