The INTERNATIONAL SERVICES CENTER, formerly Nationalities Services Center, a nonprofit organization serving Cleveland's immigrant community, was created in 1954 by the consolidation of the Citizens' Bureau and the Intl. Institute of the YOUNG WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSN. (YWCA). The center provided technical assistance related to immigration and naturalization and works to foster good relations between native- and foreign-born citizens. The YWCA's Intl. Institute began in New York in 1911 "for the protection and welfare of immigrant girls"; the Cleveland YWCA undertook similar work in Sept. 1916 in its Department of Immigration, which became the Intl. Institute in Dec. 1917. Its first center served SLOVENES, CROATIANS, SERBIANS, and ITALIANS in the Collinwood area. Another office opened in 1917 at 1620 Prospect Ave., which remained the institute's home throughout its history. By 1920 the institute had 14 nationality workers operating in 2 neighborhood centers—at 833 E. 152nd St. and 4816 Clark Ave.—and in settlement houses, libraries, churches, and even clients' homes, offering English classes at the convenience of immigrant women. Institute workers taught English, served as translators, helped immigrants with personal problems, and sponsored nationality clubs to encourage "a distinct national consciousness." The institute also educated Clevelanders about the city's various ethnic groups. Margaret Fergusson, who began as educational director in 1923, served as the institute's executive director from 1926 until the merger.
The Citizens Bureau resulted from the work of the Americanization Committee of the MAYOR'S ADVISORY WAR COMMITTEE. Financed by the draft board from 1917-19, the Americanization committee helped both board officials and immigrants, providing information about the draft and processing exemption claims and affidavits. In 1917 it began naturalization classes, teaching 300 students that year. Upon the War Committee's demise in 1919, the Americanization Committee became the Americanization Information Bureau. It received support from the Welfare Federation, which it joined in 1921; by 1922 its name had changed to the Citizens Bureau. In 1920 attorney George C. Green became the bureau's director, a post he held until 1954. Between 1917-21, the bureau aided 100,000 and taught 15,000 in naturalization classes. In Apr. 1933 the agency office moved from the old courthouse at W. 3rd and Frankfort to the Marshall Bldg. on PUBLIC SQUARE.
After World War II, services related to naturalization declined, while the need for help in bringing friends and relatives to the U.S. increased. In 1949 the Welfare Fed. began to explore whether the Citizens Bureau and the International Institute offered similar services. Recommendation for merger was adopted in 1952 and became effective in 1954. The new Nationalities Services Center was located in the former headquarters of the Intl. Institute from 1954 until it moved to the Community Services Bldg. (1001 Huron Rd.) by 1966. It continued its predecessors' operations and began new programs, such as publicizing the contributions of foreign-born citizens. The center assisted new immigrant and migrant groups, such as Puerto Ricans (1950s), Hungarian and Cuban political exiles (1950s and 1960s), and Lebanese and Vietnamese refugees (1970s). It compiled guides to local nationality groups in 1955, 1961, 1974, and 1981, and in 1962 began the annual All Nations Festival. In 1974 it created the Language Bank, a 24-hour translation service. By the mid-1970s, the center helped more than 9,000 people annually, with a yearly budget of $119,000. During this period Lucretia Stoica, who had been a case worker for the International Institute, served as deputy director, and then director (1962-1988) of the Nationalities Services Center. Algis Ruksenas would follow Stoica as director upon her retirement.
In 1989, the center inaugurated an annual Holiday Folk Festival to foster intercultural and interracial exchange held at the Palace Theater in PLAYHOUSE SQUARE each November. In 1992 the center relocated to 1836 Euclid Ave. to accommodate increased demand for services. By 1994, operating on a $700,000 budget, the center adopted its current name, served 20,000 clients annually and was accredited by the U.S. Justice Dept. to represent its clients before the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It also served as the primary Refugee Resettlement Agency in northern Ohio.
By the early 2000s, the center had focused largely on refugee resettlement. Karin Wishner, who had worked within the Center's educational programs became executive director following the retirement of Algis Ruksenas in 2006. It moved from it Euclid Avenue headquarters to a smaller office on Prospect and then to a more expansive and better equipped facility at 815 Superior Avenue. In 2016, the Center merged into the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants becoming a field office for the larger, Washington, DC, based organization, which, like the Center, had it roots in the YWCA International Institute movement of the early twentieth century.
Updated by John Grabowski