Andrea Duarte-Alonso joined the foundation in 2019 as part of a two-year Lead for America Fellowship. Based in her hometown of Worthington, she has worked to build bridges in the community and has used storytelling to help change the narrative of what rural America and rural Minnesota are like. With her fellowship ending in August, Andrea reflected on what she accomplished and learned from the experience.
In the fall of 2019, I returned to my home community of Worthington, Minnesota. I recall being nervous, anxious and excited to be home. I didn’t know what to expect, especially since I’d be returning as a young professional rather than a young student. And as a first-generation Mexican-American growing up in rural America, I was nervous because it isn’t often said, “You should return home and work in a rural community.” Plus, people like me don’t often get to see leaders who look like us in rural settings, and it’s popular to believe that those who are seen as successful are those that make it to a bigger city. Regardless of my hesitations and thoughts about returning home, I was excited to start working alongside the Community Engagement team at the Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) as its first-ever Lead for America Hometown Fellow.
Before returning to Worthington with SWIF, I created an online storytelling platform that highlights first and second-generation immigrants who live in southwest Minnesota. My work with storytelling connected with the work I would do with SWIF. During my fellowship, I had the opportunity to lead and engage in community events with our racially and ethnically diverse community members in Worthington, such as “Southwest Minnesota Story Share: A Community Gathering” and Welcoming Week’s “Creating Home Through Art” event in Worthington. Thanks to events that SWIF hosted, I was able to build relationships with community leaders, professionals in different areas of expertise, and everyday residents who are doing their best to create better lives for themselves and their families.
Not only did I work full-time with SWIF on matters of inclusion, belonging, and equity, but I also became involved in my community. I noticed that many of our decision-making tables do not mirror the community, so I felt it essential to step up and be in spaces that mean a lot to me and are important to our community. I joined the Nobles County Integration Collaborative Board, the Nobles County Library Board, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota Board of Trustees, and most recently, the Cross-Cultural Advisory Committee with the City of Worthington. In each space, we ask ourselves how we can best engage and communicate with our newcomers, communities of color, immigrants and refugees, youth, and so forth. And it’s incredible to see what can be done when individuals from different backgrounds and perspectives can collaborate!
I’m proud to be part of these groups, especially new spaces that are being created to meet the needs of our community. The Cross-Cultural Advisory Committee comprises nine individuals who support the City of Worthington with bridge-building and communication between our community members and the city. Through my time with my fellowship and SWIF, I’ve learned how powerful local work can be for all of our neighbors. While I may be looking forward to law school or working in policy one day, I can’t deny how invaluable local decision-making, local actions, and local organizing can be for many of our community members.
I’m happy to be walking away with heartfelt experiences and beautiful relationships. While the work sometimes felt lonely as a young woman of color bridge-builder, I want to acknowledge all those who supported me along the way. A big thank you to all for being a part of my journey as a professional in southwest Minnesota! I’m more than hopeful and eager to see our communities fill up with more young people (either staying, returning home, or arriving freshly new) to do powerful work in our communities.
Lead For America exists to ensure that our nation’s most dynamic and diverse talent is working on their communities’ toughest challenges. Learn more about the organization and fellowship opportunities at lead4america.org.