Under the theme “Belonging Begins With Us,” this year’s Welcoming Week inspired communities across southwest Minnesota to consider what belonging for all looks like, especially for those from other countries, but also for those experiencing a changing community. Nine communities in our region brought neighbors together during National Welcoming Week in September through music, art, food and learning.
Glencoe’s Welcoming Week party featured music spun by area DJs and performances by local “Matachines” folk dancers. Free activities for kids and families included piñatas to take a swing at and a StoryWalk® — an outdoor display of the children’s book “All Are Welcome” in English and Spanish.
“Big gratitude to (our) committee for raising their hands to plan this event. It is powerful to invite others with the intention that all would experience belonging in our community,” said Hannah Tjoflat, who was part of the planning committee and a DJ for the block party in Glencoe.
Hutchinson hosted a free concert by Sounds of Hope. Based in St. Paul, Sounds of Hope brings lively music from around the world into communities. Students from Maplewood Academy introduced flags representing their or their family’s home country. More than a dozen different flags decorated the stage. Mayor Forcier’s Welcoming Week Proclamation was read, and the audience joined together for the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance to start the concert. There were also activities for kids and families, like face painting, games and piñatas made by a local youth group led by Yara Mireles-Banda.
“We are more than blessed to have been a part of the Welcoming Week event. Our youth group was so excited to experience the bond with the Maplewood Academy students,” Yara said. “This has opened the doors for Casa Guadalupe Central, a youth inspired organization that only has one mission; to empower EVERY teen and young adult no matter what their ‘race’ is!”
The Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg area celebration included more than 14 local organizations gathered at Kerkhoven Pillsbury Park to meet community members and share resources. There were door prizes, giveaways, games, and a dance performance by Raíces de mi Tierra, a local Mexican Folk-Dance Group.
At the Marshall Area YMCA, community members enjoyed a kids’ carnival, bucket truck rides, music and an interactive art piece. “It is exciting to be a part of Marshall’s Welcoming Week, a nationwide celebration that addresses the importance of being a good neighbor and providing an inclusive community to our new and long-time community residents,” Michele Knife Sterner told the local Marshall Independent newspaper. Michele is a member of Marshall’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission that helped plan the event.
In Montevideo, community members painted tiles that will become part of a community art installation. A new catering business in the area, Moore Good Eats, served Soul Food at the event, and the remaining food left at the end of the day was donated to the Montevideo Police Department. Children could take a crack at a piñata and received prizes donated by local community members.
Windom blocked off streets downtown to make space for a variety of local businesses, churches and organizations to set up booths. Food vendors offered their best treats and kids enjoyed free crafts and activities. Mariachi band “Mariachi Mi Tierra MN” played, and the Cottonwood County Historical Society was open for a special preview of the “Stitched by Hand: Cottonwood County Quilts” exhibit.
“There is a lot of opportunity to get information out to new community members on volunteerism and the community in general,” said Windom’s economic development director Drew Hage, who is a part of the Community Integration Committee that organized the event.
Among the communities participating in the region, several were hosting a celebration for the second year, including Granite Falls, Willmar and Worthington.
Granite Falls artist Jess Gorman organized a community portrait for Welcoming Week. Community members stopped downtown to have their profiles outlined and answer a question about this year’s Welcoming Week theme “Belonging begins with US”. Volunteers are using the profiles and responses to create a large-scale art series to be exhibited and displayed in multiple locations.
Willmar’s Welcoming Week event was a celebration day full of kid-friendly activities, food, live music and space for local organizations to share resources and for community members to hear the unique stories and diverse experiences of neighbors who call Willmar home.
In Worthington, Kivu Immigration Law hosted a free film screening of the documentary “Abrazos,” a film directed by Luis Argueta featuring U.S. citizenship children who travel 3,000 miles from Worthington to visit their parents’ homeland of Guatemala. A “Belonging Begins With Us” community celebration took place at 10th Street Plaza with art by the Artmobile, community organizations sharing information and resources and food. Also as part of Welcoming Week, the Worthington Area YMCA’s facilities were open September 10-18 free of charge, and the local YMCA offered one free swim lesson to anyone interested.
Southwest Initiative Foundation promoted and supported these community-led Welcoming Week celebrations along with regional nonprofits Pioneer PBS and Southwest Minnesota Arts Council.
“Bringing people together to celebrate our communities by welcoming one another, learning more about our local history and sharing our aspiration and goals was our way to live this year’s theme, ‘Belonging Begins with US,’” said Pablo Obregón, who serves as community engagement officer at SWIF and helped guide local planning efforts led by community members.
“One learning from these events is that communities want to have this kind of event. I have heard over and over that this is something we need to do more often. We are listening to this feedback and are looking forward to see what we can do to continue to support local efforts to continue to find ways to be welcoming and vibrant communities throughout our region,” Pablo said.
Since 2012, Welcoming Week has served as the annual campaign and celebration led by Welcoming America to showcase the growing movement of communities striving to be more welcoming places for all, including immigrants. By fostering mutual respect and cooperation between new and long-time residents, Welcoming Week brings together people across lines of difference toward greater prosperity for all. Southwest Initiative Foundation is a Welcoming America member.
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