Region 5 Initiative Aims To Create Inclusive, Welcoming Communities
A program in the Region 5 area is working to ensure that area communities are welcoming to all individuals, no matter their background or demographic. The Welcoming Communities initiative hosted an event to celebrate the progress the program has made since it first launched a year ago.
“There’s so many ways to say, ‘we welcome you and we really want you to, your lifestyle and your culture and your values to be part of this community,’” said Cheryal Hills, Region 5 Development Commission Executive Director.
The Welcoming Communities Initiative kicked off one year ago, but the idea for the program originated in 2017. The program is funded by the Blandin Foundation, the Northwest Area Foundation, and Sourcewell.
“We started really digging into what can employers be doing to be more welcoming to employees because obviously there is a workforce shortage. But once you get the employees here, it’s the community that’s going to keep them here, not just the job,” added Dawn Espe, Region 5 Development Commission Regional Development Planner.
The initiative aims to enhance workforce attraction, help communities be competitive, and promote economic and social prosperity for everyone.
“This is a time when we can not afford to leave anybody behind. Companies in rural areas need workers. Community organizations need engaged citizens,” said Sonja Merrild, Blandin Foundation Director of Grants.
The program aims to accomplish this by bringing together community-led advocacy groups from all areas and demographics of the community.
“Over the course of the next 18 months to two years, we’ll be meeting on a quarterly basis with community members just talking about what their community looks like, what they could maybe be doing differently,” Espe explained.
“People that are diverse, as much as we can be in central Minnesota, in terms of private, public, nonprofit voices, student voices,” added Hills.
The group believes that if communities are welcoming to all groups and individuals, people will want to stay, build a future, and invest back into the community itself.
“This approach is really about finding the places where we can meet in the middle. It’s about, ‘hey, let’s not leave anybody on the sidelines. Let’s not signal to anyone that they’re not a part of the future we want for our community,’” added Kevin Walker, Northwest Area Foundation CEO. “Let’s bring everyone in to the room, share our perspectives and our hopes, and figure out what work we can do together.”