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Southwest Region Takes on Education, Immigration, and EBT Issues

Sixteen staff members joined Family Development leadership at the Southwest Regional Visit on August 11 at the Willmar Regional Extension office.

From left to right: Karen Shirer, Sara Croymans, Darlyce Rangaard, Bonnie Christiansen,
Trish Olson, Lorelei Schelhaas, and Kathy Schwantes

There was considerable conversation about grand challenges for the region, including three common issues that emerged:

Meeting the educational needs of individuals with mental health issues or developmental disabilities. Staff reported there are many outstanding needs among those who have mental health issues or developmental disabilities in the Southwest Region. These audiences often need basic education and training in areas such as life skills, nutrition, and general health — areas in which Family Development shines. Regional staff suggested adapting our curricula, educational resources, and teaching approaches to better serve these audiences. We in FD — leadership, supervisors, educators, evaluators, coordinators, and support staff — are interested in exploring training for staff on working with these audiences and learning from all staff about dilemmas they face in the field ("practice dilemmas"), as well as successes in their respective content areas. FD also is in process of hiring a staff development coordinator and curriculum development coordinator whose work will include addressing the educational needs of audiences with mental health issues or developmental disabilities.

Responding to immigration issues and becoming more welcoming of immigrants. As we have seen throughout Minnesota for decades, changing demographics continue to make our state more diverse in many ways. Those gathered in Willmar talked about how the Southwest Region continues to experience "waves" of immigration that have dramatic impacts on the region. Staff voiced the need for the community to figure out a better way to share and leverage the strengths of regional resources so that immigrants are acclimated and invited to be engaged in the communities. Staff asked how FD can partner with other organizations in the region to rethink community norms and move to a more proactive approach to welcome the new populations moving into the region.

We know that in order to be most effective in our educational efforts in immigrant communities, it is extremely valuable for FD staff to form meaningful connections to immigrant families and organizations that serve them. We are committed to professional development to effectively address issues of diversity and immigration. All staff need to possess cross-cultural communication skills and understand cultural diversity concepts in order to be effective practitioners.

On the left, a mural in Long Prairie showing scenes of life on small Amish and modern farms,
as well as a scene of traditional Mexican dancers. On the right, ineffective phrases to avoid.

We also understand that staff members who share the same culture or speak the same language as a given audience have a much easier time being welcomed into and connecting with the immigrant community. As a result, when we see a rise in or outstanding need of an underserved ethnic or cultural group, we work to increase our candidate pools with the relevant cultural experience (and, ideally, language) in order to meet that need. Sixty percent of SNAP-Ed educators in the Southwest Region now come from diverse backgrounds and teach immigrant populations in their native language. For an example of FD efforts related to immigration needs, see the articles by Anne Dybsetter and Jose Lamas in this issue of Family Matters.

Supporting EBT (electronic benefits transfer) at local farmers markets.
The Southwest Region contains many farms, and with farms come many farmers markets. While that's a good thing, staff voiced concern that many of the farmers markets in the Southwest Region do not accept EBT cards, which have replaced paper food stamps. There are many challenges related to this issue and those in attendance agreed that collective action is needed to overcome the barriers.

FD has already taken one action aimed at increasing EBT access at Southwest Region farmers markets through the SNAP-Ed Community Partnership Funding initiative. The team that reviewed applications for funding has recommended awarding a grant to an agency that proposed a project to improve EBT access at Southwest Region farmers markets. While funders have yet to decide whether to approve this agency for funding, making the recommendation is a great example of connecting community-identified needs with available resources. For another example of increasing EBT access, see Ashraf Ashkar's video.

While the Southwest Region's challenges are grand, everyone in FD can do something to work on these issues. If you work in the region or your work is tied to the region, what are some steps that you personally can take (or have already taken) to address these challenges? If you are based in a different region, how could you partner with staff in the Southwest Region to work on these or other issues? Grand challenges can provide us with grand opportunities to continually do great work with Minnesota families.

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

Editor’s note: The following three articles first appeared in the August 2015 Southwest Regional Newsletter:

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