This American city has a winning way of making refugees feel welcome.

It really is a beautiful game.

There's something amazing about Cincinnati.

The stunningly scenic city of Cincinnati at sunset. Image via Stephen Weis/Flickr.


It's nestled into the southwestern corner of Ohio, on the beautiful and historic Ohio River. It's the home of the Bengals, the Reds, the Cyclones, the Bearcats, and the American Sign Museum.

Like many larger cities in Ohio, it is also home to one of the biggest refugee populations in the country.

More than 25,000 refugees have made their homes in greater Cincinnati. There are large established populations from Vietnam and the former Soviet Union, along with smaller, newer refugee populations from Iraq, Somalia, Bhutan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, and Burma.

Their backgrounds are as diverse as they come, but their reasons for leaving their homelands are similar.

Image via the Junior League of Cincinnati, used with permission.

Some fled religious persecution. Others because of their race or nationality. Still others were attacked for their political views or social beliefs.

Whatever the reason, most of them left their homes quickly — bringing little or nothing with them — in search of a better life. As refugees, they went through the toughest screening process of any potential U.S. citizens, finally landing in Cincinnati.

While some groups like to sow fear around the "unknown" that accompanies refugees, there are organizations fighting hard to make them feel accepted and included — even loved — in their new communities.

One of those groups is Cincinnati's Junior League. For 95 years, this community organization has helped connect nonprofits in the community to the people who need their services the most.

More recently, they started Refugee Connect, a program that links up the 80 refugee-focused groups in greater Cincinnati to share learning and services so that the refugees they work with get the best help possible. Refugee Connect has scholarship programs and weekly classes teaching English and preparing refugees for their citizenship exams. But the program goes beyond teaching — it helps welcome refugees into the community.

Refugee Connect's newest tactic for connecting refugees in their community is as fun as it is simple: soccer.

"Soccer is a universal language — it's the connector," program director Robyn Steiner Lamont told Upworthy. "It doesn't require people to speak the language to play, and everyone knows it."

Image via Junior League of Cincinnati, used with permission.

While lots of Americans are more interested in football or baseball, soccer is the world's game. Aside from a ball, it requires no equipment. Anyone at any skill level can play. And unlike so many other sports, verbal communication isn't essential. For refugees, with their diverse backgrounds and sometimes limited English skills, it's the perfect game. It's also not a brand-new idea, particularly for Cincinnati.

After World War II, hundreds of European refugees settled in Cincinnati, including Al Miller, Werner Coppel, and Paul Heiman. Their shared experience in German concentration camps brought them together, but it was their love of soccer that truly united them. Their team, made up of refugees mostly from Europe, was its own community, helping members rebuild their lives in the United States after the war.

Al Miller (bottom row, far right), Werner Coppel (standing, far right) Paul Heiman (standing, second from right), and other members of their refugee soccer team, circa 1955. Image via The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, used with permission.

In honor of that same spirit of inclusiveness and community, Refugee Connect joined the Red Cross to organize the World Refugee Day Cup Soccer Tournament.

Image via Junior League of Cincinnati, used with permission.

More than 200 people signed up to play on 16 co-ed teams. There were participants from 10 different countries, ranging in age from adult to youth, from lifelong residents of Cincinnati to newly arrived refugees, all united by their love of soccer and community.

Image via Junior League of Cincinnati, used with permission.

The day started out with a Parade of Nations, where players carried the flags of their home countries, including Bhutan, Burma, Burundi, Colombia, England, Kenya, Mauritania, Senegal, USA, Zimbabwe, and Congo.

Image via Junior League of Cincinnati, used with permission.

Teams played hard all day, while an African drumming team kept the beat between matches.

Image via Junior League of Cincinnati, used with permission.

In the end, Team Senegal beat Team Mauritania to win it all for the second year in a row.

Their prize was a commemorative trophy and tickets to see the local professional soccer team, FC Cincinnati, where they'd be recognized on the field before the match.

The captain of Team Senegal with the tournament trophy. Image via Junior League of Cincinnati, used with permission.

The Cincinnati Junior League wants their community to be the most welcoming in America for refugees. Soccer is just one way to get there.

To the refugees building a new life in America — or to those considering one — Robyn and her team have a clear message:

"We are here to welcome you as your begin the next chapter in your life, a chapter of freedom. You no longer need to flee; you get to decide how you will live your life. We will stay with you, help you navigate a new culture, and provide resources for your success wherever possible. We hope to learn from you and to connect you to your passions. Your success is our success as one community."

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Capital One

Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


Capital One

Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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Capital One
Gillette

Jim and Carol lived an active, exciting life together as husband and wife. But when Jim was struck by a car while cycling near his home, their life changed dramatically. Jim was left needing round-the-clock care, and Carol, a retired nurse, took on the role of caregiver.

Every day, Carol helps Jim through his physical therapy and personal grooming routines. "If we don't do what we do on a daily basis to help him move forward, he'll become more and more dependent," Carol says. "Some days the challenges are very difficult."

More than 40 million Americans are in Carol's shoes, providing unpaid caregiving to loved ones who are disabled, elderly, or otherwise in need of assistance. With baby boomers getting older and people living longer, many middle-aged people find themselves caring for aging parents or grandparents. Others may have a developmentally delayed adult child at home, or a family member who has become disabled due to an accident or illness. From cooking to cleaning to bathing, caregivers help others do everyday tasks they aren't able to do for themselves.

RELATED: These glimpses into the lives of caregivers prove they're real unsung heroes.

Hygiene and grooming are a big part of a caregiver's job, and anything that makes those tasks easier is a good thing. That's why Gillette's new TREO razor, specifically designed for shaving other people, caught our eye.

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via Milwuakee Journal Sentinel / YouTube

Fourteen-year-old Kat Miller took a firm stand for LGBT rights in front of the entire congregation at the Batavia Zion United Methodist Church in Batavia, Wisconsin when she rejected her membership over the church's anti-gay policies.

After two years of participating in the church's confirmation program, she was set to become a member of the church but balked due to its recent policy changes that discriminate against the LGBT community.

Miller and three other confirmands took the pulpit at the church, reading personal faith statements that outlined what Methodism want to them. Only Miller's had an additional paragraph that shocked the congregation.

"I believe the most important values of a Christian life are to accept everyone who is willing to believe in being a good person in God's realm… Yet, the stance of the UMC, the organization, does not resonate with what I believe," Kat said.

Therefore, she said, she would not become a member of the United Methodist Church.

The reaction she received from the congregation was decidedly mixed.

"I was frustrated and disappointed," Kat said according to USA Today. "I didn't think that other people, who aren't the pastor and aren't confirming me in my faith, should be able to say that my faith statement is wrong."

RELATED: Methodist teens rejected their memberships before the entire congregation to protest its anti-LGBT policies

Eight teens in in Omaha, Nebraska, received a positive reaction from their congregation when they refused to be confirmed as members of the church.

On Easter Sunday at the First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Nebraska, a group of eight 13 and 14-year-old UMC youth stood up to the church's anti-LGBT policies by refusing to be confirmed for the time being.

The group made its announcement in the form of a letter read before the entire congregation.

We have spent the year learning about our faith and clarifying our beliefs. Most of us started the confirmation year assuming that we would join the church at the end, But with the action of the general conference in February, we are disappointed about the direction the United Methodist denomination is heading. We are concerned that if we join at this time, we will be sending a message that we approve of this decision.

We want to be clear that, while we love our congregation, we believe that the United Methodist policies on LGBTQ+ clergy and same sex marriage are immoral. Depending on how this church responds to the general conference action, we will decide at a later time whether or not to become officially confirmed. But until then, we will continue to stand up against the unjust actions that the denomination is taking. We are not standing just for ourselves, we are standing for every single member of the LGBTQ+ community who is hurting right now, Because we were raised in this church, we believe that if we all stand together as a whole, we can make a difference.

The teens were greeted with a standing ovation from the congregation and received the full support of its minister, Reverend Ken Little. "Myself and our associate pastor are in full support of their decision," Little said according to Religion News. "We're proud of them. It's not an easy thing to do to resist."

RELATED: Painting nails: The simple act that changed a man's approach to masculinity

As previously reported in Upworthy, at a United Methodist Church (UMC) conference in St. Louis last February, delegates voted 438-384 for a proposal called the Traditional Plan that bans openly-gay people from being ordained as ministers or serving in the church.

It also forbid any UMC funds from going "to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality."

A majority of American delegates voted against the plan, but it was passed with support from conservatives and delegates from UMC strongholds in Africa and the Philippines.

The decision has created a schism in the church with some UMCs flying gay flags, performing same-sex weddings, and withholding payments to the main offices in protest.

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Facebook / RoseMary Klontz

The couple that dresses together stays together, or at least in the case of these two lovebirds.

Francis and RoseMary Klontz, who will celebrate their 68thwedding anniversary next month, have been coordinating their outfits since they first started dating in high school.

"My mother got us matching shirts when we were in high school – well, I picked them out — and we've been matching ever since," Rosemary told CBS Sacramento.

The Plumas Lake, Calif. couple, who've served together in ministry at churches throughout the West for decades, first met in middle school.

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