Your home, our community

“We want New Americans here; we need them here and we want for them to feel like this is home to them and we are responding to the things that they need.”

This story is based on an article that originally appeared in the Willmar Area Community Foundation February 2022 newsletter. It is republished with edits with permission.

By Sara Carlson and Karina DeJong

Coming to America takes a leap of courage. The courage to break free of your past, knowing hardships may continue on the journey filled with unknowns. Imagine coming to a new place, where you did not know the dominant language, you had limited resources and felt lost, isolated and alone. It is hard to know of the resources when there are barriers to understand what is available. Who do you communicate with? How will you learn? Where do you go? How will you share your unknown needs to the community? How do you navigate a new life for yourself when you feel isolated trying to turn to a new chapter?

When the pandemic was at the forefront of our lives, the COVID-19 Leadership team realized the barriers of sharing critical information to new Americans in our community including health information and the resources available to be of assistance. “These are our loved ones, our neighbors, our employees, our students,” states Heather Jesertiz, United Community Action Partnership (UCAP) Family Services Manager. “This needs to be more than just where they live, this needs to be home and to make this their home they need to have access to the same resources that people born and raised here have.”

The Willmar Area Community Foundation (WACF) saw this persisting need and decided to take action. The Foundation reached out to its partner at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy for potential funding options available to address these barriers. An opportunity for funding was illuminated through CDP’s Midwest Early Recovery Fund, and the Foundation reached out to UCAP as a potential partner that could implement the work needed in our community.

The Foundation has since received and deployed more than $100,000 to UCAP to help answer the community’s call. Because this funding provides new capacity abilities, UCAP now offers not only translation services and personal needs-based assessments, but also has hired liaisons to provide direct client resource services in English, Somali, Spanish, Karen and Hmong.

“We want New Americans here; we need them here and we want for them to feel like this is home to them and we are responding to the things that they need,” says Sara Carlson, WACF Executive Director. “While the Foundation may have been the vessel, UCAP has implemented $100,000 worth of unprecedented change in our community for our new American neighbors.”

Having these valued specialists for our new American populations has created pathways and deepened understanding that contributes to the overall well-being of everyone in our community and beyond. This is the power of community: The act of engaging people and connecting resources that, in turn, aids in the building of a healthier and stronger community.

A joint grant from CDP’s COVID-19 Response Fund and the Midwest Early Recovery Fund supported Willmar Area Community Foundation’s efforts to provide culturally relevant and first language outreach and services to New Americans living and working in the Willmar area, many of whom are working in or have family members working in, agricultural and meatpacking environments. In partnership with United Community Action Partnership (UCAP).

(Photo credit: West Central Tribune, Willmar, Minn.)