Local government and nonprofit leaders are positioning Akron as Ohio’s most welcoming city for future U.S. citizens.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced Tuesday that it will add Akron — a mid-sized, shrinking city with leaders who embrace economic and cultural gains through legal immigration — to a list of seven cities that are splitting $3.5 million.

The grants will provide new arrivals with the legal and educational assistance they need to become naturalized citizens, including civics lessons and English language courses.

The participating cities — Akron, Philadelphia, Miami, San Jose, Detroit, St. Paul, Minn. and Charlotte, N.C. — will partner with the New Americans Campaign, a national group of pro-immigration nonprofits led by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco. The network, active in 24 states and the District of Columbia, already partners with Cleveland through Asian Services in Action, which also operates in Akron.

Also on Tuesday, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan and Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro announced the culmination of Phase I of the area’s “Strategic Welcome Plan.” The initiative brings together government and nonprofit agencies to help Greater Akron “grow in population, diversity and opportunity, and be a welcoming community for all.”

The local effort began 16 months ago, spearheaded by Horrigan and the late Summit County Executive Russ Pry. Partners in Akron include Asian Services in Action on Carroll Street, Global Ties Akron downtown and the International Institute of Akron in North Hill.

Thousands of recently arriving refugees from Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Republic of Congo have been settled in North Hill or now call the neighborhood home after landing somewhere else in America and finding their way to Akron.

“We are a small, big town where entire families can thrive socially and economically in a neighborly environment,” Elaine Woloshyn, executive director of the International Institute of Akron, said in a joint statement with government officials.

“Our foreign-born population has proven to be an economic driver for our region,” Shapiro added. “Whether it is through an increase in small business ownership, adding to the workforce or increasing homeownership rates, Summit County has seen the benefits of being a welcoming community.”

The local strategy is supported through funding and guidance from two national nonprofit organizations: the nonpartisan Welcoming America and advocates for comprehensive immigration reform at the New American Economy, a bipartisan coalition of 500 American mayors and business executives founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a wealthy liberal, and Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of conservative Fox News.

The ongoing collaboration promotes local laws and policies that foster inclusion and regional partnerships that assist new citizens with finding success and integrating in American society. The local partners have identified four guiding principles for the area’s Strategic Welcome Plan:

• Enhance the network of public and private partners that serve and empower new Americans to facilitate their integration into the Akron community.

• Adopt initiatives and policies in public and private institutions that are delivered in a way that allows for equitable participation and in a way that is respectful of the religion, culture, race, ethnicity, physical and mental ability, age and sexual orientation of members of both immigrant and receiving communities.

• Empower and guide new Americans, through identified ethnic community leaders, to understand and navigate public and private service systems.

• Increase cultural and linguistic accessibility to all community and government services.

“This strategic plan is important work in truly promoting our community as welcoming,” Horrigan said. “Being welcoming goes beyond a simple willingness to do so — it takes a concentrated and coordinated effort to advance community communication, education and access to services for both new and longtime Americans. This plan is the first step in organizing partners and government agencies to factor inclusion and welcoming into their daily work.”

Phase II, which will last through December 2018, will include the replication of a “refugee health task force” formed about six years ago by the area’s three major hospitals, immigration service providers and the Summit County health department to regularly discuss the health-care needs of refugees.

Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @ABJDoug on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/doug.livingston.92 on Facebook.