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Training for area youth workers

ana anthony/daily globe Mary Laeger-Hagemeister is shown talking to the group about "Mattering and Marginality," a topic of discussion during the training.

WORTHINGTON -- A melting pot, a mosaic and a pizza were some of the adjectives used to describe America during the Culturally Responsive Youth Work Matters training Tuesday morning at the Nobles County Integration Collaborative.

The six-hour program is designed for individuals who work with youth, to address their own cultural proficiencies and develop frameworks that fit the cultural context of the youth they work with.

"Culture can certainly be race and ethnicity, but it is gender, education, economics, age or anything that defines us," explained Mary Laeger-Hagemeister, facilitator from the University of Minnesota Extension Youth Work Institute.

Participants ranged from ALC teachers, youth ministry professional and volunteers, to representatives from the collaborative. They spent the morning reflecting on their respective cultures and linking them to commonly attributed stereotypes.

"Someone might say I'm an Arab but I'm not a terrorist," Laeger-Hagemeister said.

After examining timelines of immigration into the United States, one participant referred to America as a melting pot.

"We're more of a mosaic," another participant said. "There's melting going on but you still have the different tiles. We're really different from one another within our American culture."

ALC teacher Anne Raetz explained that while she lived abroad in London and Germany, she knew what to expect of their culture but Europeans were more critical of the American culture.

"We don't have just one thing that is ours. We have a combination of cultures," she added. "Understanding that, I sympathize more with newer immigrants because having an outside look at the United States does not give them enough readiness for when they're here and are expected to be immersed into our culture."

While America is the home to a myriad of ethnicities, Laeger-Hagemeister asked the group to think of values that define the country.

Freedom, individuality, social mobility and democracy were some of the ideals that participants decided tied Americans together -- much like a pizza base but with different toppings, ALC teacher Ben Green described.

Throughout the day, participants engaged in various activities and follow-up discussions.

"A lot of it is experiential," Laeger-Hagemeister explained. "After they do an activity, I want them to reflect on how it applies to their work as a youth worker."

One such activity was Barnga -- a card game in which each group received cards with a different set of rules.

"In each table, what wins the hand isn't the same card but no verbal communication is allowed" she said. "That way it gets us thinking about what it's like when you don't know the rules and there's a language barrier."

This is the second year that the collaborative has partnered with the University of Minnesota Extension Work Institute to offer this professional development course to youth workers in the area.