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Southeast Region: For Richer, For Poorer

Seventeen staff members joined Family Development leadership at the Southeast Regional Visit August 14 at the Owatonna Fire Hall.

The Southeast Region is the second-most populated region in the state, exceeded only by the Central Region, which includes the Twin Cities. The Southeast Region is anchored by two large cities on either side: Rochester to the east and Mankato to the west. Four themes dominated discussion at the Southeast Regional Visit.

Demographic diversity. Growing diversity in the region creates great opportunities as well as challenges. Families of Latino, Somali, Karen, and other cultural heritages are moving to southeastern Minnesota to work in the health care and food processing industries. In some communities in the region, up to 90 percent of immigrant families have recently arrived and need an adequate support system and services to find education, employment, and a sense of feeling welcomed. The region has taken some steps to respond to the needs of immigrant families, including the following:

  • Organizations are hiring community leaders who speak Spanish and Somali through Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Foundation grants. See all of BCBS Foundations’ Equitable Systems Grantees.
  • The Welcome Center in Austin, created in 2000, offers welcome packs, community education, and case managers for families to help new residents become acclimated to their new home. Learn more about The Welcome Center.
  • Minnesota State University, Mankato created a position to coordinate 35 agencies working together to build a multicultural network that, along with other work, held a job fair for recent immigrant families.
  • Mankato’s Department of Public Safety hired its first Somali police officer earlier this year. Read more: Police officer builds Somali ties in Mankato.

Despite these efforts, FD staff noted that the region still lacks a unified, connected response to the needs of diverse communities. Agencies are looking to Extension and other entities for support in how to better work with, and develop a coordinated response, to diverse communities’ needs.

Hotbed for health promotion. In many ways, with the Mayo Clinic and a multitude of other health-related industries dispersed throughout the area, the Southeast Region is the hotbed of health promotion efforts, i.e., efforts to enable people to increase control over, and improve, their health. For example, Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) is active in the region. FD staff are collaborating with SHIP staff and forming other partnerships with non-profit agencies and community groups to promote health.

The longtime presence and growth of the healthcare industry has a major effect across southeastern Minnesota, both positive and negative. Many agencies and other groups are willing to partner on health promotion issues, but policy and other changes in the industry can negatively impact the community. For example, FD staff described how the Southern County Health Alliance and UCare were being cut as accepted providers for Medicaid. This will likely result in job losses. Others noted that people are bombarded with community health assessments from hospitals, health care, public health, community action partnerships, and many other agencies. While collecting data is a positive activity for organizations, the families themselves are experiencing assessment fatigue.

Visible ag, invisible poverty. There is a great sense of pride in the important role agriculture that plays in the Southeast Region. Agriculture’s impact can be seen on local economies and in discussions about topics such as water quality, large and small farming, as well as in debates about genetically modified organisms. The history and culture of agriculture in the region remains strong, and agricultural interests are strongly represented at public meetings and community conversations.

Less visible according to FD staff are the pockets of hidden poverty and income gaps that exist in the region. Staff noted that he voices of diverse communities and those in poverty are often not heard at public meetings and community conversations.

Points of progress. FD staff shared many examples of longstanding or new work that addresses southeastern Minnesota's grand challenges.

Regarding Winona in the eastern part of the region, FD staff noted an overall need to have more diverse voices at various tables, but they agreed that Project FINE is a good example making a positive start to broadening dialogue. Project FINE recently received a SNAP-Ed Community Partnership Funding subcontract. Primarily working with refugee and immigrant populations in Winona County, Project FINE seeks to empower these groups through a PSE (policy, systems, and environmental) approach and a model for health promotion, similar to the promotora model, designed to foster positive change for individuals, families, and the entire community.

Southeast Region Staff Lineup

Helping to address and partner with others on the challenges in the Southeast Region is the following lineup of FD staff:
  • 1 Family Resiliency Extension educator
  • 1 Health and Nutrition Extension educator
  • 1 Family Resiliency community program specialist
  • 1 Family Resiliency associate program director -- Partnering for School Success
  • 1 Family Resiliency program coordinator -- Partnering for School Success
  • 2 SNAP-Ed regional coordinators
  • 10 SNAP-Ed educators

Southeast’s Grand Challenges

Of special concern in regard to grand challenges in the Southeast Region is how children are faring in poverty. In the Mankato area alone, one in three children live in poverty and one in six do not have access to healthy foods. Challenges of affordable housing and other risk factors have increased the number of homeless youth throughout the region, as well as a need for quality foster care. Schools and interagency partnerships are beginning to address education about, and access to, healthy foods for students, but a more integrated response is needed in the region.

There are initiatives in the region that offer great potential. From the Southeast Lutheran ELCA Synod Enough Food for All program, which covers 15 counties in region, to the Latino Economic Development Center investing resources for local gardens, Family Development can continue to invest and partner in the Southeast to meet the challenges faced by its families.

Mary Marczak, Director of Urban Family Development and Evaluation
Michael Brott, Communications Manager
Heather Lee, Educational Resource Development and Support Manager

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