The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 10, 2013

Our View: A welcoming community: Let’s talk about it


The Free Press

— To get lots of people talking about how to make a community more welcoming, particularly to refugees who come here seeking a better life, you have to start the conversation.

That was the intent of last week’s gathering of service providers, human service professionals, faith-based leaders, and other community leaders invited to a community discussion hosted by the Minnesota Council of Churches in Mankato and Sowelu Institute.

About 70 people gathered in groups of five or fewer at round tables and brainstormed what they thought was needed to create a welcoming community.

It’s a worthwhile question for every community to ask. Attracting a variety of people and hoping they become involved members adds to the depth and richness of neighborhoods and communities as a whole.

The Mankato area especially has the potential to mine this richness as it continues to become the home of many people of various backgrounds, including a large population from Somalia and Sudan. And this is a long-term investment as children from diverse backgrounds grow up here. In the Mankato school district almost 20 percent of the student population is made up of non-white ethnicities. Of those 1,400 students, about 800 or 57 percent are black; about 330 or 24 percent are Hispanic; and about 230 or 16 percent are Asian. A total of 32 different languages are identified as primary languages for about 670 students.

The Feb. 4 gathering was just a part of the work that’s been going on in Mankato in the area of helping newcomers settle in. The Refugee Services office also has coordinated The Tapestry Project, a collaborative effort with Lloyd Management and the city of Mankato with weekly discussion topics such as housing, parenting, food safety, health and public safety.

The Mankato refugee office, which opened April 1, is being deliberative, taking time to figure out what other nonprofits and governments are doing here to avoid competing with them. For that reason, other brainstorming meetings have been held with newcomer groups. The sessions are part of the tools that will help Mankato grow into its role as a home for everyone.

Much of the brainstorming at last week’s meeting came up with a number of building blocks needed, including leadership, education, communication, relationship building, respect, access to opportunity, safety and mentoring.

Now it’s up to the consortium’s planning committee and the refugee office to put ideas into a concrete proposal. Ideas alone won’t change things. Action needs to follow. And the committee won’t be able to do it alone; the majority of the Mankato area community needs to participate in making this a good place to live for everyone.