Welcoming Gainesville

When Paula Rötscher came to UF from Germany in 2012, she was greeted with open arms. But she noticed not all international students had as easy a time.

Some needed help with English, and others struggled to get involved in the community, she said.

Now the executive director of the nonprofit Welcoming Gainesville, Rötscher said she is hoping to help new international residents adjust by partnering with more than a dozen community organizations to promote their services and offer her own.

In the coming months, she said she aims to start offering an English-language class for residents in conjunction with the Latina Women’s League and UF’s English Language Institute.

“One of the best ways for someone to become part of the community is to interact with different residents, and you can’t really do that if you can’t speak English,” she said.

Rötscher also said she hopes to teach city residents about others’ stories by having international residents act out their immigration stories in a play she is trying to organize with local theaters.

“We hope immigrants who come to our community will come forward and share their stories,” Rötscher said.

Richard MacMaster, 81, met Rötscher when she interned for him in 2015 at Gainesville’s Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice. At the time, he wanted Gainesville to join almost 100 cities as part of Welcoming America, an organization that encourages tolerance in communities.

He knew Rötscher would be perfect to head Welcoming Gainesville after a resolution to create it passed the city commission in February. Gainesville was the first city to join in Florida. Alachua County joined in June.

“We all need each other,” MacMaster said. “I hope the city and the county become a city and a model for the rest of Florida.”