This past month has been filled with travels all over our southwest Minnesota region. I truly think that one of the best parts of my job is being able to see the great things that happen when Southwest Initiative Foundation partners with visionary, dedicated people who have a passion for the place they call home. Recently, I’ve had the chance to meet with some of our community affiliates. It’s such an honor to sit at the table with these volunteer leaders and hear about the fantastic work they are doing.
Just last week I was in Worthington to visit with some of the remarkable organizations that partner with SWIF. After visiting the Worthington Area Foundation, one of SWIF’s 25 local affiliates, their co-chair, Sharon Johnson, and I sat down to discuss Worthington’s Community Education program. Sharon wears many hats, and happens to also be the Director of the program. She and her staff provide a dizzying array of programs and services from early childhood education to adult basic education.
As we toured the bustling halls of the community education center, Sharon pointed out a large display on the wall featuring the names of those that had studied diligently for many hours and recently earned their US citizenship. Citizenship is a gateway to even greater opportunities, and research shows that immigrant workers who are U.S. citizens enjoy higher wages and lower levels of poverty than non-citizens.
Learning to live and work in a new country is not easy, but Worthington is building the resources to help make that goal more achievable for our newest immigrants. Sharon showed me exactly what that meant by introducing me to the Community Connectors. Staff members are fluent in numerous languages including Spanish, Karen, Burmese and Hmong. Our new residents have so much to offer our communities, but need access to support and resources to be successful.
Our final stop was at the Nobles County Integration Collaborative (NCIC). It was a lovely tie-in to the day’s events, and it was absolutely enlightening to see the work done by their coordinator, Thi Synavone and her team. NCIC’s work centers around student success and advancing the community’s acceptance of cultural differences. This means creating opportunities for families, students and staff of diverse backgrounds to learn from each other. As a collaboration of six area school districts, NCIC works to close the achievement gap and increase parental involvement while also creating training opportunities to promote cultural competence in Worthington.
The organizations and programs I saw paint a picture of hope and inspiration. Together, we can build our communities into welcoming places of opportunity, regardless of the culture and language of our neighbors.