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Initiative helps immigrants, city see each other’s value

VOICES diversity dialogue

When: 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Feb. 23

Where: Heintz Center, 1926 College View Road S.E., Rochester

By Christina Killion Valdez

ckillion@postbulletin.com

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Even in a time of workplace contractions, workplace expansion was the focus of a town meeting Thursday in Rochester.

Tim Penny, president of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, introduced the foundation to a group of 50 people ranging from community and business leaders to new immigrants gathered at the Heintz Center. The group’s goal is to focus on the economic future of the 20-county region, he said.

That can mean different things, such as providing low-interest business loans to revitalize Le Sueur’s downtown or starting mentorships in Plainview, both of which were done with foundation grants.

In Rochester, the effort means zeroing in on the assets of immigrants in the work force through a new initiative called VOICES, Valuing Our Immigrants Contributions to Economic Success.

"We hope Rochester can be a model for what other communities can do in regards to immigrants in the work force," said Scott Parker, a facilitator from the foundation.

The VOICES initiative began last summer with a 20-member core leadership group coordinated by the Diversity Council, which applied for a grant from the foundation and brought together several community partners. That group began hosting focus groups with 10 immigrant communities, which shaped the style of the town meeting to ensure everyone would be heard.

The focus of the meeting was to create a community dialogue by identifying the assets already in Rochester, which can be built upon.

Among the pages of ideas that were shared at the meeting were that immigrants bring global connections, tenacity and financial responsibility, and they can expand companies’ customer base. Employers provide a place for immigrants to realize their dreams, to receive mentorships and training, and to find social mobility. And the community provides the Rochester International World Festival, adult education, advocacy in the judicial system, charter schools and immigrant-owned businesses.

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The next step is to expand on those ideas, which will be done through smaller diversity dialogues to be hosted by volunteers from throughout the community. The first has been set by VOICES for Feb. 23.

For more information, go to Postbulletin.com/weblinks.

Diveristy Council: http://www.diversitycouncil.org/

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