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Incoming Director Of Refugee Services At JFCS Says City Needs More Translators, Child Care

The downtown Pittsburgh skyline on a sunny, clear summer day.
Keith Srakocic
Ivonne Smith-Tapia says as the new director of refugee services at JFCS, she hopes to bring more support to families and young immigrants resettling in Pittsburgh.

On today’s program: Jewish Family and Community Services’ new director of refugee and immigrant services Ivonne Smith-Tapia discusses what she hopes can be achieved with more resources and the new Biden Administration; two sisters who lost a brother to COVID-19 contend with the misinformation about the virus that he believed until he was sick; and a look at the Gulf Tower’s history following a fire and condemnation.

Jewish Family and Community Services hires a new director of refugee and immigrant services
(0:00 — 6:35)

The Biden administration raised the U.S. refugee cap to 62,500 people, a roughly four-fold increase from former President Donald Trump.

When a refugee enters the U.S., they might come without any assistance to welcome and integrate them. That’s where community services come into play.

Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) assists refugees and new immigrants through the administrative, legal and cultural processes when moving to America.

“I think with more refugees coming to the region, … we have a lot of opportunities to strengthen our partnerships with local government foundations and other organizations,” says Ivonne Smith-Tapia, the incoming director of refugee and immigrant services. “I also hope to elevate the voices of immigrants and refugees in the region.”

Smith-Tapia’s prior experience includes working as an anthropologist connecting communities to the government in Colombia. She says from that work, she knows how to listen and support diverse communities.

She says now is an opportunity for the Pittsburgh region to improve education programs for immigrant youth and adults.

“We need to get better at expanding child care opportunities for families that are culturally relevant and that can provide interpretation services for families. We can also always expand programs that allow refugees and immigrants to start their own businesses or scale their job opportunities so they can grow.”

Smith-Tapia will move into her new role in July.

How COVID-19 myths can divide a family
(6:40 — 13:34)

More than 27,000 people in Pennsylvania died from COVID-19, each leaving behind friends and family to grieve.

WITF’s Brett Sholtis reports, for some, processing grief is complicated due to attitudes and misconceptions about COVID-19 among their own families and communities.

From bombs to fires, the Gulf Tower has seen it all
(13:37 — 18:00)

The city of Pittsburgh posted a condemnation notice on the iconic Gulf Tower due to damage from an electrical fire on May 19. The city’s Permits, Licenses and Inspections Department said the notice was issued to alert people the building is unsafe until the repairs are made. Building owner Rugby Realty says it will bring in 300 workers to restore the building.

However, this fire isn’t the only action the Gulf Tower has seen in its 90-year history.

The Tower survived a bombing in 1974 detonated by the Weather Underground group, which was protesting the Gulf Oil Company.

When it was built in 1932, it was the tallest building in the Pittsburgh skyline at 44 stories tall, until the U.S. Steel Building was constructed.

“The Gulf Building, as it was called, the Gulf Tower now, was one of a pair of distinctive art-deco skyscrapers built for Andrew Mellon, who was of course a powerful banker and industrialist, one of the most powerful men in America,” says Mark Houser, author of “MultiStories: 55 Antique Skyscrapers & the Business Tycoons Who Built Them.”

Houser notes the stepped-pyramid roof was modeled after the Turkish Tomb of Mausolus, and is a popular feature in towers built in the same era.

The building continues to make a mark on the city with its rooftop colored lights, which indicate temperature change and other aspects of weather. Pittsburghers can also see the beam light flashing from the tower every time the Pirates, playing from PNC Park, hit a home run.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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