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Refugee Road

"So many focus on only one part of the story—only on hardships and barriers and trauma and horrific experiences that people have prior to coming here,” Nadia Kasvin says of the refugee and immigration experience. “And then they focus on another part, which is how tough it is to start here. But nobody tells the [...]
Laura Dachenbach



“So many focus on only one part of the story—only on hardships and barriers and trauma and horrific experiences that people have prior to coming here,” Nadia Kasvin says of the refugee and immigration experience. “And then they focus on another part, which is how tough it is to start here. But nobody tells the whole story, and that’s frustrating, because the whole story is not this or that. The whole story is everything.”

For Kasvin and her partner Tatyana Mindlina, co-founders of US Together, the immigrant experience is about getting results: bringing knowledge, skills, and drive to a new situation, and making the situation and yourself better in the process. It’s not just about surviving; it’s about thriving.

“It took a lot of work, but we didn’t do it on our own. Along the way there were always people who helped us out. Now it’s our turn to give back with this knowledge and understanding.”

“Both of our families were really blessed with being successful,” says Kasvin, as she tells me her family’s impressive resume of educational and professional achievements, including Ivy League schools, graduate degrees, and small businesses. “It took a lot of work, but we didn’t do it on our own. Along the way there were always people who helped us out. Now it’s our turn to give back with this knowledge and understanding.”

In 2003, Kasvin and Mindlina, refugees themselves, began responding to the needs of the Russian-speaking population of  Columbus, at first providing primarily translation services. Fifteen years later, those efforts have grown into US Together, a statewide refugee resettlement and comprehensive immigration integration program, employing over forty people and 217 translators who speak 76 languages in Columbus, Cleveland, and Toledo. Many of their former clients are now caseworkers and program managers.

US Together offers over 30 programs to meet social, economic, and civic needs, helping clients with everything from language to citizenship to investing, following the journey that newcomers tread as they reinvent themselves in a new culture that has often has more opportunities and choices than newcomers have previously experienced.

“The same people are coming back for different services,” said Mindlina. “Resettled peoples are coming for help with a green card and then they’re coming in five years for their citizenship applications. Basically, what we’re doing is what is needed in the community—trying to create programs around that so people get help when they need it.”

The individualized approach has created some unexpected outcomes.

“Several women graduates of our program started a catering business, using the strengths that they have,” said Kasvin. “We helped them with advertising and putting together brochures and menus. It’s not something we’re set up to do. We don’t have a program in Columbus helping women to start businesses, but as a result of our women’s empowerment program, that was the result. It’s really amazing.”

Travel bans and executive orders have changed life for immigration services. Refugee admissions were at an average of 96,000 per year to be integrated into the total US population of 325,000,000. That number of admissions fell to a ceiling of just 45,000 possible new arrivals. Delays and diverted resources for processing cases meant that only about half of that number was actually resettled. This fiscal year saw a further lowering of the ceiling to 30,000.

However, the decrease doesn’t mean US Together is ready to close shop.

“Just because less refugees are coming doesn’t mean we have less work. We have more work,” said Kasvin. “We just address different issues. We have people coming in every day asking about their families. People may be traumatized. People may be depressed. Or people may be wanting to know about their rights.”

I ask the women if, despite the bleak picture for arrivals, there is still an optimism for the United States. Is the United States still seen as a place of opportunity where people can begin their lives again? Smiling, they tell me they believe so.

“Otherwise it would be devastating. Can you imagine?” said Kasvin. “People need something to believe in,” Mindlina adds.

Both Kasvin and Mindlina point to the innovation that springs from diversity, the innovation for which the United States, a nation of immigrants, is known. Kasvin mentions Russian immigrant Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, whose father, a professor of mathematics, decided to emigrate to the United States after attending a conference in Poland, conversing with other academics behind the Iron Curtain, and finding a new intellectual freedom.

“This country has a lot to offer, but we also have a lot to offer this country,” said Kasvin. “It’s mutual. We benefit from being here and this country benefits from us being here.

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Clintonville shop earns “America’s Best” award

614now Staff



Clintonville's Johnny Velo Bikes has been named one of the top bike shops in the nation according to an industry source.

Johnny Velo Bikes has received an America’s Best Bike Shop award from the National Bike Dealers Association (NBDA). The shop is among only six in Ohio to earn the distinction.

“It's an honor to be recognized as one of the best bike shops out of more 4,000 shops in the country," owner John Robinson said in a statement. "We've only been in business for two years, but we've worked very hard to create a professional and friendly atmosphere for our customers."

The NBDA's America's Best Bike Shops program identifies and rewards bicycle stores in North America against the highest performance standards in the industry. The awards are issued based on an application and secret shopper process, with shops scored on layout and design, staff and management, training, marketing, and community involvement.

Contact John Robinson at 614-333-0012 or [email protected] for all your bike-related needs. For details on the shop, visit

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Arts & Culture

Maker’s Space: Kato Mitchell




Following an initial disastrous experience with attempting to refurbish a personal pair of sneakers with acrylic paint years ago, a friend noticed Mitchell’s persistence, aiding him to perfect his craft. Though he began with primarily focusing on restoring his friends’ worn-down sneakers, Mitchell’s business, Work The Custom, has expanded to designing apparel in any range.

Just months after being highlighted as cleat designer for Braxton Miller’s Charg1ng summer football camp in Dayton, Mitchell’s clientele has accrued some big names in the sports world, and he has no intention of stopping. (614) caught up with Mitchell to learn more about Work The Custom, and his hope for reconstructing apparel in Columbus and beyond.

(614): When did you decide to transition from football to design?
KM: I’ve always had a passion for drawing and art, [but] I just lost my vision when I took actual art classes and didn’t like what we were doing. After college, I didn’t get any NFL calls, [and] I was trying to figure out what else I would love to do every day, and fell back in love with art.

What was your leap from “this thing I do” to the thing to do? How do you promote your work? After I realized how many people wanted to show who they really are with art, and I was someone who could help do that, that was my ironing point. I promote my work through Instagram and Facebook for the most part, but I do go to sneaker events from time-to-time to pass out business cards.

Is this your primary gig, side gig or hobby? How did it come to be?
It’s my side gig for the moment, but trying to grow and learn to make it my full-time career. I had a pair of shoes that were beat up and didn’t want to buy more so I painted them, but one of my friends taught me the game and how to prosper from it.

What life changes do you feel have propelled your work? How have your customizations evolved? Playing football for a place like Ohio State and doing work for Buckeyes in the NFL and for the OSU football team has helped grow my work faster and further. My customs have evolved just by me growing up and seeing different things, learning different things, practicing everyday, and being able to adapt.

Do you have a specific audience that you want to appeal to?
I want my work to be for everyone. My work can range from baby shoes to youth high school players of all sports, to walls of homeowners and businesses, to shoes for pro athletes.

What ingredients come together to make Columbus a fertile ground for makers, designers and creatives? Columbus is a growing market and very friendly. It has new businesses starting every week and everyone is trying to help everyone else.

What’s your six-word creative story?

Work The Custom is coming fast!

To get in contact with Mitchell, or to see more designs, follow him on Instagram at @katowork19.

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Twitter Reacts: Bucks score #1 spot in first official playoff rankings

Mike Thomas



The first official rankings for the 2019 College Football Playoff were announced yesterday, and the Buckeyes have landed at the top of the pile. The ranking marks the first time the Buckeyes have held the #1 spot since the inception of the playoff system.

Needless to say, social media is abuzz with reactions to this historic moment for Ryan Day's squad. Enjoy this roundup of reactions to the announcement from around Twitterverse, and Go Bucks!
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