By Stephanie Genkin
When Alexis Dalmat Cohen was accepted to the International Honors Program she thought it would help her launch a career working overseas for the State Department or USAID.
Instead, it convinced her to use what she learned in the U.S.
Today she is the President and Executive Director of Culture Connect, a non-profit organization established in 2005 to foster cultural fluency between immigrants, including refugees, and the community at large through language services, education and mentoring.
The 6-month IHP program took her to four corners of the world — Mexico, India, New Zealand, and Canada to study indigenous populations.
“It was the most life changing experience I’ve had thus far,” says Dalmat, who married in October and sometimes adds Cohen to her name.
“I loved it,” she adds.
She works with people from around the world, but instead of being out in the field as she had once planned, she’s focused on Greater Atlanta.
“It was the most life changing experience I’ve had thus far,” says Dalmat.
Her IHP program was critical to her journey working with diverse populations of immigrants.
“The comparative nature shows you how important context is and how important culture is. You can’t take a square peg from Mexico and put it in a round hole in India,” she says.
Each country of the study tour highlighted an indigenous culture that was tied to the land.
“It got me thinking, ‘how does one creates community in the U.S, where there is a lack of permanence.’ Everyone moves around,” she explains.
“Because of IHP, I chose to come home.” says Dalmat. “I knew I wanted to work locally. I wanted to build community from Atlanta.”
So after Dalmat completed her degree in international relations and anthropology at Boston University, she moved back to her hometown.
It seems like the four corners of the world followed her.
Metro Atlanta has one of the fastest growing immigrant populations in the country. Serving the needs of new Americans from around the world means that as head of Culture Connect, Dalmat relies on her deep cultural awareness and global perspective.
The variety of programs she runs — together with a staff that grew from two to 12 during her seven year tenure — connects immigrant and refugee populations from Mexico, Nepal, Ethiopia, India, China, and many other places with the local population in Atlanta and the surrounding area.
Culture Connect offers cultural competency workshops, advancing the careers of immigrants and refugees and preparing companies for a diverse workforce.
The organization works with school districts, hospitals, universities, community organizations, government agencies, and corporations.
Under Dalmat’s leadership, Culture Connect runs intensive training programs for interpreters to serve the multilingual immigrant and refugee populations, and, as a result, contributes to workforce development.
It’s a win-win for both immigrants and the local community.
The six-week medical interpreter training program has been so successful that soon it will be offered online and is licensed to non-profits in Arizona and Ohio to help other communities with similar needs.
For now, life is centered on Atlanta but Dalmat still loves to travel and says it is part of her DNA. Her grandfather worked for the National Institute of Health studying tropical diseases in exotic locations; her father was born in Guatemala and went to high school in Brazil, eventually working for the CDC for three decades.
“Our dinner table was very international”, she recalls, adding that it wasn’t uncommon for her family to entertain colleagues from other countries with fare like Senegalese peanut stew. “It was a very different upbringing from my friends.”
Dalmat studied Spanish in high school and even before IHP spent time overseas. She went to Argentina with the American Field Service and to Peru, volunteering with rural education services in remote mountain villages of 75–100 people, most of whom spoke only the indigenous Quechua language.
Today she loves seeing the impact of the people she serves and says “seeing the growth of my team has also been pretty cool. I really enjoy investing in people — growing their confidence and skills. We’ve gone from 1500 served per year to 25,000. I love hearing the individual stories and seeing the larger impact we can make.”
Last May, Dalmat completed an MBA at Emory and is interested in social enterprise, aligning market motivations with doing good.
Her drive to serve her community goes beyond Culture Connect. She’s on the board of Concrete Jungle, a non-profit that collects fruit and nuts from trees growing in the Atlanta area — in yards, on the side of the road, next to buildings (with the permission of property owners), and donates it to organizations serving the homeless throughout the area.
“So far we’ve collected and donated almost 20,000 pounds of fresh organic fruit,” she says.
“I’m really proud of it, Dalmat adds. “We are helping to meet the nutritional needs of the people we help, and we promote physical activity and community amongst the volunteers.”
Another win-win for Atlanta.