Welcoming Week in southwest Minnesota
Building vibrant and welcoming rural communities is at the heart of our work. This fall, we partnered with Pioneer PBS to sponsor activities across southwest Minnesota in honor of Welcoming Week, a time when people in communities large and small, rural and urban, celebrate the benefits of an inclusive society and deepen our commitment to creating places that are welcoming to everyone, including immigrants, refugees and other people who have been systematically excluded.
Welcoming Week activities in our region centered on the theme “Creating Home Together through Art.” Events took place outdoors, where attendees could be physically distanced while following health and safety guidelines.
Willmar community members gathered downtown at Selvig Park to enjoy music and experience a drumming circle, create chalk art, learn about the 2020 Census, register to vote and more thanks to Willmar Main Street, Ridgewater College, League of Women Voters of the Willmar Area and Willmar Interfaith Network.
“People from different ages and different backgrounds were able to come together, to spend time in that space and to share their feedback about what a welcoming community feels and looks like, and how Willmar can become more welcoming,” said Pablo Obregón, who helped plan the local events as a member of the Willmar community and SWIF’s Community Engagement Officer.
At Worthington’s Centennial Park, community members created art with ARTMobile. They could explore multiple community resources, register to vote and purchase treats from Antojitos Mexicanos Socorro. Educators were also available to help parents and caregivers navigate school technology, too.
Lead for America Fellow Andrea Duarte-Alonso, who is a Worthington community member spending her fellowship collaborating with Southwest Initiative Foundation, helped plan the community event.
“We had about 60 folks attend the event. There were a lot of people who ended up saying we need more events like these. That to me was really powerful. They really took notice of what they got out of it,” Andrea said.
Some people suggested bringing art into communities to draw neighborhoods together, which Andrea agreed was a great idea.
“It was a really nice day full of community art and community conversations,” she said.
In the Morton and Lower Sioux Indian Community, community members engaged in a discussion and demonstration work with artists RedHorse Jacobson and Kateri O’Keefe, hosted by Dakota Wicohan. Community members who filled out a short survey said a welcoming community offers safe and comfortable spaces to feel free to be yourself; lots of friendly faces and conversations, and plenty of help; open participation in all community offerings or activities and equal access and visibility for all cultures.
Granite Falls welcomed the public to create art together by painting river rocks, making prints and contributing to a community mural. They could enjoy a live, outdoor concert or visit a prohibition-era style selfie booth. The day’s Welcoming Week events were paired with festivities for the Yellowstone Trail Alliance of Western Minnesota’s Sociability Run. As with the other regional events, participants could give feedback through a short paper survey.
“Learning the strengths and areas we can challenge ourselves – in a fashion that allowed us to watch new neighbors and children intermingle safely at that time when little feels safe – was immeasurable,” said local community organizer and artist Jess Gorman. “I personally was drawn to this community because it embodied something welcoming, an open arms attitude of ‘a stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet’ and I believe in our first attempt at Welcoming Week, many strangers became friends.”
Welcoming Week was established by Welcoming America, which launched in 2009 to lead a movement of inclusive communities becoming more prosperous by making everyone feel like they belong. By creating home together, we call for our communities, workplaces and region to be safe and welcoming places where everyone feels they are valued and belong.
Southwest Minnesota Story Share
Welcoming Week fits perfectly with the collaborative work Pioneer PBS and Southwest Initiative Foundation have been doing to expand rural storytelling and develop new storytellers. The Southwest Minnesota Story Share project’s goal is to survey our viewing area for new voices and story ideas to increase the prospects of national television distribution of stories from rural America. In collaboration with other PBS stations in Minnesota, Pioneer PBS is also seeking stories from viewers that deepen our understanding of our state’s origins and immigration history through Moving Lives Minnesota: Stories of Origin and Immigration.