Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange

The Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange (WCTE) is an unique opportunity for integration leaders in Germany and the United States to share ideas and promising approaches to welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into their communities.

WCTE participants expand their networks and learn important new skills around issues such as community engagement, refugee outreach, positive communications, local policy development, evaluation, and many other areas critical for creating a welcoming community in which all members can thrive. Given the current immigration landscape in both the United States and Germany, the WCTE program focuses especially on receiving communities: promoting contact between residents and newcomers, communicating the economic and social benefits of a welcoming culture, and cultivating local leaders in the integration space. This includes helping people who may have concerns or fears develop deeper connections with their new neighbors.

WCTE aims to build the capacity of local integration leaders and, through them, strengthen the welcoming infrastructure of the communities in which they work. Each year, it will incorporate new communities in both countries, bringing together up to 25 Germans and 16 Americans for site visits, workshops, and to create action plans to improve the integration processes in their respective communities.

The program consists of in-person exchanges and online interactions, with the goals of:

  • Creating and strengthening the “welcoming infrastructures” in these communities, including a productive dialogue between local residents and newcomers
  • Collectively finding innovative solutions to the challenges of unexpected influxes of migrants to communities in the U.S. and Germany
  • Creating a sustainable network of integration practitioners in the U.S. and Germany who can learn from and offer support to one another
  • Supporting local welcoming innovation in a context of constrained federal support

The Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange is organized and administered by Cultural Vistas, together with its partners Welcoming America and the Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America. The program is funded by the Transatlantic Program of the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany through funds of the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi), as well as by the U.S. Department of State, the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and BMW Group.

WelcomingAmerica_311x78 HBS-North-America_280x38



For Participating Communities

    1. Population
      The Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange is open to any city with at least 100,000 residents. Smaller cities/counties may also apply as a consortium if there are clear geographic reasons for doing so. Applications from cities that are part of Welcoming America’s Welcoming City and County Network will be given special consideration (U.S. applicants).
    2. Compelling Responses to Challenges
      The exchange seeks to identify communities that have provided compelling responses to challenges integrating immigrants and refugees. The exchange seeks to incorporate communities that are working to include a diverse array of immigrants – across different countries of origin, immigration categories, and economic statuses, among others. Communities that have experience with responding to unexpected arrivals (such as unaccompanied children) are also of special interest.
    3. Eagerness to engage the local community
      The program is especially interested in efforts to engage receiving communities in addressing the local population’s fears and concerns about newcomers.
    4. Existing collaboration
      There should be evidence of existing local welcoming collaborations that will be strengthened by participating in the exchange, including the involvement of local government. Other creative partnerships such as with businesses, schools, ethnic-based organizations the faith community or others in service to integration are encouraged.
    5. Enthusiasm for creating a welcoming climate
      All applicants should demonstrate an enthusiasm for inclusion work, a willingness to explore new strategies, and a desire to strengthen welcoming efforts.
    6. Ability and willingness to learn, share, & implement new ideas
      Communities should demonstrate that they are ready to actively contribute to the exchange, that they have sufficient institutional support to implement the lessons from the exchange, and that they will share their learning with their broader community. Although letters of support are optional, demonstrated support by local city officials and a diverse array of community leaders will help the selection committee to assess the suitability of your community to participate.

Who May Participate

The program seeks the participation of “teams” of integration practitioners from a common community, who will be able to work together to improve the integration processes at various levels of their community following the exchange.

  • From Germany: five communities of five participants each
  • From the U.S.: four communities of four participants each

A total of four teams from the U.S. and five teams from Germany will be selected to participate in the 2017 program, representing nine communities total. Team leaders should propose a full slate of delegates to represent their city on the exchange. Delegates should come from a variety of sectors and backgrounds (including at least one local government representative). Only in rare and justifiable cases should a team contain more than one representative from the same organization. In order to ensure a well-balanced diversity of perspectives in the exchange, WCTE administrators may suggest changes to the Team Leader’s list of proposed delegates

Applications for all members of one’s community are due December 1 by midnight (Eastern Time). Each candidate may, at their own discretion, include a letter of support from their organization as part of the online application. Applications will be reviewed and acceptance decisions will be made by a selection committee representing Cultural Vistas, Welcoming America, and the Heinrich Böll Stiftung.

Please note that the language of the exchange will be English, and that all participants must be able to communicate in and understand spoken and written English.

Costs and Logistics

There is no financial cost to participate in the Exchange. The Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange will provide roundtrip transatlantic flight, accommodation and transportation, health/accident insurance during travel, and per diem for basic expenses like food while abroad. Participants will gain professional contacts, trainings, and new ideas that can benefit their communities. Participants must be available during the tentative dates of the U.S. and Germany portions of the 2017 exchange:

  • April 29 – May 9, 2017 (U.S. portion)
  • November 3 – November 13, 2017 (Germany portion).

How to Apply

Applications for the 2017 Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange are currently being accepted. Participating communities will be selected in January 2017.

To apply for the Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange program, please request access to the online application system by clicking the button below. Your request will be reviewed by a Cultural Vistas staff member. If you meet the program’s eligibility requirements, you will be sent a username and password to access the online application

Request an Application

Deadline: December 1, 2016 (Midnight, U.S. Eastern Time)

Applicants should demonstrate that they are capable of meeting the following expectations:

  • Your community’s team consists of four (U.S. communities) or five (German communities) members who collectively represent the local community’s integration system. The team members should have familiarity with the community’s welcoming and immigrant integration work, reflect diverse demographic backgrounds, work across different sectors, and have unique perspectives to share on immigrant and refugee integration. At least one team member must be a representative from local government.Other team members may represent immigrant-led organizations, faith communities, businesses employing significant numbers of immigrants, as well as refugee resettlement, philanthropic, and advocacy organizations, or others involved in local integration initiatives.Each community will have one Team Leader, who acts as the main point of contact with the administering organizations. The team leader is counted as one of the four (U.S. communities) or five (German communities) total team members.
  • Team members will collaborate to host in-person, local site visits for exchange participants from the other country, demonstrating the integration successes and challenges in their community for 2-3 days. Not every community will be able to host a group from the other country, but should be prepared to do so.
  • Participants will communicate via an online forum throughout the year to provide updates to other U.S. and German delegations on their work. They will also host or participate in an event during Welcoming Week 2017.
  • Participants will host at least one presentation for their peers in their home community on lessons learned, following their experience abroad.
  • Each team will write and publish an action plan, outlining steps to improve the integration of immigrants in their community, based on the lessons learned and ideas discussed during the exchange.

In addition, each participant will be required to give at least one presentation on the content of the action plan for colleagues in their home communities, after returning from the exchange. As the program aims to improve perception of the integration of migrants among the larger public in each community, participants are expected to contribute to this impact by amplifying the outcomes of the exchange in their community. Limited funding will be available to participants to support these activities following the exchange.

Note: We cannot accept applications on behalf of the following communities, which have already participated in the exchange:

  • German cities: Dresden; Essen; Stuttgart; Mannheim; Landkreis Sächsische Schweiz-Osterzgebirge
  • U.S. cities: St. Louis, MO; Atlanta, GA; Boise, ID; Columbus, Dayton, or Lucas County, OH.

Inside the 2016 WCTE Experience

The inaugural year of the Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange kicked off in April 2016 as 24 German officials from the cities of Mannheim and Stuttgart, both located in the southwest German state of Baden-Württemberg, as well as Dresden and the rural villages of Altenberg and Pirna, located in former East Germany, visited the United States for a 12-day, multi-city tour to gain American perspectives on refugee reception and integration.

The visit began in Atlanta as the entire group took part in the Welcoming Interactive Conference, before breaking up into smaller cohorts to visit the four 2016 WCTE communities before wrapping up in Washington, D.C.

It showcased a wide-ranging look into how American cities approach integration through a series of site visits and meetings with local governments, resettlement agencies, interfaith groups, local schools and employers, among others.

The second leg of the program took part in September as a 16-member U.S. delegation, with representatives from Atlanta and Clarkston, Georgia; Boise, Idaho; Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo, Ohio; and St. Louis, Missouri, visited their German partner communities over the course of nine days. There, the group examined how local governments and organizations have responded to the more than one million displaced individuals who arrived in the country over the past year.

They also explored a myriad of topics including local approaches to housing; school and workforce integration; the accommodation of vulnerable populations; the role of interfaith organizations and existing immigrant organizations in connecting with refugees; and opportunities for cross-sector collaboration.

Participants also discussed the anti-immigrant sentiment that has emerged across communities in both countries, and work together to evaluate and identify effective responses.

The 2016 program culminated as all 40 WCTE participants came together to speak about their experiences and share lessons learned during the two-day Transatlantic Symposium on Innovative Approaches to Integration in Berlin, hosted by the Embassy of the United States in Berlin and U.S. Ambassador to Germany John B. Emerson.

2016 WCTE Participants


2016 WCTE Participants

🇺🇸 Participants

🇩🇪 Participants

Abdulkareem Ahmed, Atlanta
Regional Manager
R. James Properties, Inc.
Dominic Heyn, Dresden
Personal Assistant to the Mayor for Social Affairs
City of Dresden
Alicia Philipp, Atlanta
Community Foundation for
Greater Atlanta, Inc.
Michael Krueger, Dresden
CEO / Leiter
Projektschmiede gGmbH / Fachstelle zur Förderung von Zivilcourage und Demokratie
Michelle Maziar, Atlanta
Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs / Welcoming Atlanta
Kerstin Zimmermann, Dresden
Head of Group, Economic Services
City of Dresden
Paedia Mixon, Atlanta
New American Pathways
Ronald Zenker, Dresden
Executive Spokesperson
CSD Dresden e.V.
Jan Reeves, Boise
Idaho Office for Refugees
Thomas Kian-Zenker, Dresden
Honorary Coordinator for the
Housing of LGBT Refugees
City of Dresden
Diana Lachiondo, Boise
Director of Community Partnerships
City of Boise
Kathrin Richter, Essen
Board Member
ProAsyl/Flüchtlingsrat Essen
Yasmin Aguilar, Boise
Community Resource / Match Grant Cash Assistance Coordinator
Agency for New Americans
Anna Jacob, Essen
Director, “Offene Hochschule”
University of Duisburg-Essen
Roger Brown, Boise
Director of Community Relations
Boise State University
Regina Zander, Essen
Founder and Volunteer Coordinator
Kleiderkammer Steele
Melissa Bertolo, Ohio
Welcome Dayton Program Coordinator
City of Dayton Human Relations Council
Andreas Brinck, Essen
Werden Hilft e.V.
Nadia Kasvin, Ohio
Co-Founder and Director
US Together Inc.
 Damla Kara, Essen
Soccer Project Founder
Integration durch Sport und Bildung e.V.
Brittany Ford, Ohio
Project Manager,
Welcome Toledo-Lucas County (TLC)
Board of Lucas County Commissioners
Jutta Breitner, Mannheim
Head of Department,
Commissioner for the Promotion of Employment
City of Mannheim
Guadalupe Velasquez, Ohio
Associate Director,
Community Relations Commission & Coordinator, New American Initiative
City of Columbus
Klemens Hotz, Mannheim
Head of Department of Children,
Youth, and Family
City of Mannheim
Anna Crosslin, St. Louis
President & CEO
International Institute of St. Louis
Ulrike Klose, Mannheim
Unit for Educational Planning and School Development
City of Mannheim
Betsy Cohen, St. Louis
Executive Director
St. Louis Mosaic Project
Christina Lindner, Mannheim
Office of Personnel Planning and
Professional Development
City of Mannheim
Yemi Akande, St. Louis
President & CEO
FOCUS St. Louis
Claus Preissler, Mannheim
Commissioner for Integration and Migration
City of Mannheim
Frances Levine, St. Louis
Missouri History Museum
Karin Dressel, Stuttgart
AGDW (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Dritte Welt) e.V.
Angelika Münz, Stuttgart
Youth Assistance Planner,
Office of Youth Affairs
City of Stuttgart
Günter Gerstenberger, Stuttgart
Area Director, Social Services
City of Stuttgart
Stefan Greuling, Stuttgart
Assistant Director
eva – Evangelische Gesellschaft Stuttgart e.V.
Lydia Meyer, Swiss Saxony
Initiative Asyl Altenberg
Petra Verhees, Swiss Saxony
Management Team, Language Course Coordinator and Independent Mediator
Initiative Asyl Altenberg
Sven Gerstner, Swiss Saxony
SPS Schiekel Präzisionssysteme GmbH
Stephan Falley, Swiss Saxony
Operating Director
Caritasverband für Dresden e.V.
Anne Nitschke, Swiss Saxony
Member of the Board
AKuBiZ e.V. / AG Asylsuchende Sächsische Schweiz e.V.


In the United States 🇺🇸

Atlanta and Clarkston, Georgia

A growing number of refugees and immigrants have arrived in Clarkston in recent years, and a particularly large Somali population calls Clarkston home. Despite Atlanta’s rich civil rights history, there have been challenges over the years as some have grown concerned about the demographic changes in the Clarkston community and other surrounding areas. The Coalition of Refugee Serving Agencies was formed to work together to change perceptions of new arrivals and to help spread a positive message about the many contributions people were making to their new home. The mayor of Atlanta also has served as a leader for a more welcoming approach. His administration worked with corporations – like Coca‐Cola and Georgia Power – to create the Welcoming Atlanta plan, recognizing that how the area welcomed immigrants and refugees would deeply impact their ability to attract global talent and keep Atlanta internationally competitive in the years ahead.

Boise, Idaho

The city of Boise was hit hard by the economic downturn in 2007. As unemployment climbed and concerns grew about the community’s economy, there were calls to curtail the refugee resettlement program in Boise. Many were anxious about the lack of jobs and the potential effect on the community’s capacity to effectively settle refugees. Rather than panic, the City of Boise, refugee resettlement providers, and other leaders in the community chose to come together to develop a collaborative approach to help refugees integrate into the community and create new opportunities for everyone. Today, the result is Neighbors United, a cross‐sector collaborative effort that has developed a comprehensive plan that found more resources for Boise and serves as a model for other cities around the nation.

Columbus, Ohio

Ohio is a leading state for welcoming immigrants and refugees. The city of Dayton created the first‐of‐its‐kind welcoming plan and engaged sectors and individuals across the community to actively recruit and retain newcomers to help revitalize the economy and social fabric. Lucas County (Toledo area) has followed suit, and is also deepening its collaboration as it becomes home to a number of newcomers, including refugees from Syria, who join a long‐standing Syrian community active in Toledo. Columbus, the state capital, has long resettled refugees from across the world and hosts the largest numbers of new arrivals. Their refugee resettlement services and local government sectors have implemented innovative new efforts, including those that quantify the economic benefits refugees bring to the area.

St. Louis, Missouri

Located near the center of the U.S., St. Louis, which was once the fourth largest American city, has dropped to 19th in population in the nation. Local researchers determined that a too small immigrant population was hindering the region’s economic revitalization, since immigrants are 60% more likely to start small businesses than the native‐born population. In 2012, local government, the Chamber of Commerce, immigrant service providers, higher education and others collaborated to create the St. Louis Mosaic Project to attract more immigrants to the region. St. Louis has a long history of resettling refugees with the leadership of the International Institute of St. Louis. By utilizing an immigrant economic development model, which includes micro‐loans for small business development, the Institute helps build family and community economic strength. St. Louis is also collaborating to welcome more Syrian refugees and offers events, trainings, and a variety of other engagements to spread awareness of the value of living in a diverse, multicultural society.

In Germany 🇩🇪

Essen, North Rhine-Westfalia

As one of the largest cities in Germany’s Ruhr region (the German equivalent to the U.S. “rust belt”), Essen plays an important role in the intake of refugees in the state of North Rhine‐Westfalia (NRW). The city boasts a strong network of coordinated volunteer organizations, which coordinate efforts with neighboring cities in the region. Essen contains all stages of the immigration and asylum‐seeking process; a first‐point registration center (EAE) includes a state facility coordinated with the federal immigration office (BAMF) and receives immigrants for up to 14 days before distributing them to communities. At the same time, communal facilities and temporary shelters receive immigrants for often months at a time, as their application status is being reviewed. These different speeds require very different approaches to volunteer engagement, which is reflected by the great variety of welcoming activities. NRW is Germany’s most populous state and took in the largest number of refugees in 2015; it is slated to take in more than 21% of all of the country’s refugees in 2016, and accordingly must come up with a large share of the unforeseen costs and structures necessary to overcome the challenge of the current refugee situation.

Dresden, Saxony

Dresden and the surrounding area have recently gained a lot of attention domestically and internationally as a stronghold of the anti‐Islamic PEGIDA movement (roughly translated “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West”) and the related anti‐immigrant demonstrations. The mayor’s initiative to create a “city of integration” thus foresees not only a promotion of democracy and tolerance but also a proactive approach to countering extremist tendencies. Though only 2% of the city’s inhabitants are foreigners, the image of a city with a disproportionately high anti‐refugee sentiment makes the success of Dresden’s integration initiatives key in the establishment of a welcoming culture throughout Germany.

Landkreis Sächsische Schweiz‐Osterzgebirge

The Landkreis Sächsische Schweiz‐Osterzgebirge (which we are calling the county of “Swiss Saxony” for convenience) lies within the state of Saxony, which has witnessed some of Germany’s loudest and most prominent anti‐refugee backlashes by segments of the local population. The town of Altenberg, for instance, saw an increasingly hostile atmosphere towards refugees in 2015, leading to the establishment of the Initiative Asyl Altenberg, which has helped align the mayor and local population behind welcoming new refugees. Caritas, a social service organization, recently expanded its support to refugees in the region and sees itself as a voice for the growing population of migrants in both Swiss Saxony and Dresden; refugee initiatives throughout Saxony play a crucial role in the public perception of the successful management of the refugee situation on the state and federal levels.

Mannheim, Baden‐Württemberg

With 43% of the population representing a so‐called “migrant background” (not ethnic German), Mannheim has a long history of successive waves of immigration since the 1950s. With growing numbers of newcomers, the municipality has applied various integration initiatives since the early 1970s, as different immigrant groups settled there, and is constantly seeking new impulses for implementing its promotion of social justice, respect and mutual understanding in a diverse society, shared values, freedom, and equal opportunity. Integration initiatives in Mannheim such as the “Open Mosque” concept, initiatives promoting immigrant potential in the educational and career transition spheres (“ikubiz”), and various civic engagement projects have served as templates for other cities throughout Germany looking to strengthen their welcoming cultures. The municipal government is itself undergoing an internal and external process of further reducing intercultural barriers, which is seen as crucial to a holistic integration approach. The city currently faces the challenge of an unprecedented number of refugee arrivals, as well as “economic migrants” from the European Union, especially southeastern Europe.

Stuttgart, Baden‐Württemberg

The capital of the state of Baden‐Württemberg, Stuttgart has been considered a model throughout Germany for its successful integration policies. According to Gari Pavkovic, Commissioner for Integration, “40 percent of [the city’s] 600,000 residents (or 60 percent of people under the age of 18) come from abroad, twice the national average.” With the new refugee populations, as well, Stuttgart has developed the “Stuttgart Model”, housing 8,405 refugees in 113 different accommodations across 21 districts of the city, in an effort to avoid “tent cities” and other mass shelters. Immigrants are quickly integrated into the educational system, and local officials like Levent Gunes proudly note that the percentage of entrepreneurs in Stuttgart with migrant backgrounds is the highest in Germany. Like many other regions in Germany faced with an aging population and low birth rates, Baden‐Württemberg relies on immigration for demographic growth and a younger workforce.