One topic in particular that stood out for Sleepy Eye is the need for English Language Learner (ELL) classes in town.

In early November a large group of people from Sleepy Eye, Springfield, and New Ulm, gathered at the Sleepy Eye Event Center to participate in the Welcoming Communities Assessment. The purpose was to document strengths and weaknesses related to diversity and inclusion efforts.

The Welcoming Communities program in Brown County was made possible through a grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation’s Healthy Connections Program to Region Nine Area, Inc.

The Brown County group is the second Welcoming Community program in the area. In 2018, people from St. James, St. Peter, Fairmont, and Waseca met to learn about and address inclusion issues in each of their communities.

The evening of Jan. 29, the Brown County participants came to the Sleepy Eye Event Center again to read and discuss the results of the assessment conducted at the November meeting. This time the participants from each town gathered in separate rooms to focus on the assessment results and comments unique to their community.

The facilitators, from Region Nine, the Greater Mankato Diversity Council, and U of M Extension, led each community group through activities designed to have participants talk with each other and then determine, individually, what issues stood out to them.

Nadia Crooker, District 84 School Liaison, was able to encourage a larger number of Sleepy Eye’s Hispanic residents to attend the meeting. This added to the entire group’s understanding of inclusion issues in Sleepy Eye. A recurring theme centered around language issues in all areas of discussion, such as education, law enforcement, business, and health care.

One topic in particular that stood out is the need for English Language Learner (ELL) classes in Sleepy Eye. A woman commented that people in Sleepy Eye may have the opinion that Hispanic people who do not yet speak English, do not want to learn. “That is not true,” she said. “They desperately want to learn English. But there are no classes here.” She added that people drive to St. James after working all day to take ELL classes there.

At the end of the evening participants were asked to apply to become an official participant for their town to work toward a community focus or project. The next meeting is Feb. 27 in Sleepy Eye.

In speaking of working toward change in communities, Bukata Hayes, Greater Mankato Diversity Council, shared a quote by author and life coach Tony Robbins that resonated with those in attendance: “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is more than the pain of change.”