By the time she moved to Fort Wayne in 1998, Polish native Ewelina Connolly had already visited the city several times with the dance troupe in which she performed. On one of these trips, she fell in love with an American. But when they decided to marry, Connolly faced a difficult transition. She spoke little English, and while her immigration paperwork was processed, she wasn’t legally allowed to drive or work. “In my own country, I was considered an accomplished individual—a college graduate,” she says. “Here, I was nobody. You feel like a child who has to learn to walk and talk. That’s an overwhelming and humbling experience.”
Connolly rebuilt her life one step at a time. She watched Sesame Street to improve her English and, after obtaining legal status, took a series of retail jobs. She also found mentors at the International student center at Purdue University Fort Wayne, who believed in what she—like many local immigrants—had to offer. “I connected with people who were encouraging of my talents,” she says. “They told me, ‘you can absolutely go back to school.’ I have since worked hard to make Fort Wayne my home. It’s a wonderful place to live.”
In Poland, Connolly was the first person in her family to attend college and had chosen a practical degree in administration and law. But in Fort Wayne, she realized she could pursue her true passion: marriage and family therapy. She worked hard to master written and spoken English and completed psychology and composition prerequisites. In 2009, she earned a master’s degree from Purdue.
I feel my biggest accomplishment is helping these newcomers attain goals that they feel are out of reach. It’s returning a favor to Fort Wayne and coming full circle.”
Today, Connolly is the clinical director of Amani Family Services, where she oversees all clinical operations. The nonprofit helps Fort Wayne’s large refugee and immigrant populations integrate into American life. Connolly has found success at her job because she knows first-hand how challenging it is to start over in a new country. But she also understands the difference that a truly welcoming community can make. “I feel my biggest accomplishment is helping these newcomers attain goals that they feel are out of reach,” she says. “It’s returning a favor to Fort Wayne and coming full circle.”