By Ingrid Schnader
When Hoover City Councilman Mike Shaw’s daughter Melodi began studying Japanese, Shaw noticed how learning the language and culture gave her a purpose.
Now a student at Auburn University with a minor in Asian studies, Melodi’s passion inspired her parents last year to begin a non-profit organization called Destination Hoover International.
“Hoover is an international city,” Shaw said. “There are so many different cultures here and so many different countries here. But Hoover’s never really had any international effort dedicated like this.
“We wanted to build something that would allow us to take Hoover to the world, improve sister cities and other programs like that, bring the world here, but also recognize the diversity and the different countries that are already here.”
The organization ultimately would like to partner Hoover with a sister city, which is a long-term partnership between two communities in two countries. But for now, the organization is planning cultural events in the area and finding ways to connect to people of different backgrounds.
“Japan is all about the friendship,” Shaw said. “(Things like) the tea ceremony, the tree planting and dedication we’re doing, that’s what they’re into. With India, it’s all about sports and dancing.”
Cricket is a popular sport in India, Shaw said, but it’s almost unheard of in the United States.
“So they all go, ‘Well, you know when you’re coming to America, you’re happy, but you’re sad because you’re giving up your love for cricket,’” he said.
To remedy this, DHI held a cricket tournament May 4 at The Finley Center. Admission was free, and cricket fans braved the rain to play the sport they love.
The organization also partners with German communities in Hoover. Shaw said that German culture typically focuses on a person’s career. The RC3 – Riverchase Career Connection Center – is a new program in Hoover City Schools that reflects this cultural aspect by teaching high schoolers skilled trades.
“There are a lot of students who immediately go to college after graduation, but this is also a way to get a certification in something so you can enter into the workforce,” said Shelley Shaw, Mike’s wife and president of DHI’s board.
Shelley Shaw said that, so far, these community events and projects have been well-received.
“These other community groups, they’re excited to hear about it, and they want to meet us,” she said.
Program Promotes Economic Development
Not only do these programs foster a good community, but Mike Shaw said having them improves economic development.
“You learn very quickly, particularly with Asian countries, that there is a lot of subtlety in the way they communicate and the things they care about,” he said. “It’s very different from Europe or us in the U.S. So part of this cultural understanding is, if you want to have successful economic development, you’d better understand the cultures of different people and what’s important to them.”
The organization had a fundraiser with Jubilee Joes that provided scholarships for students who are interested in international studies. DHI announced in April that graduating seniors Caroline McCabe of Spain Park High School and Jessica Bradley of Hoover High School each had been awarded a $2,000 scholarship.
McCabe will focus on business analytics at Auburn University and plans to study abroad. Bradley plans to declare a business administration major with a minor in Spanish.
“What we intend on doing is having that relationship with them, following them and being able to tell the community about what they’re doing and how they may come back to Alabama or, even better, come back to Hoover and bring what they’re learning back here,” Shelley Shaw said.
The Shaws have lived in Hoover since they had their children, but before that, they both moved around a lot.
“So we know what it’s like to be in a different place frequently,” Mike Shaw said. “We want to make sure that people feel welcome, that they know we’re glad they’re here, that there are a lot of opportunities for people in Hoover, and we want to make sure people in the world know who Hoover is so they want to come here or move their company here, (so) they choose Hoover.”