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SMOC's new executive director ponders community center

“I toured a wonderful place. They are helping kids and families,” she said. “I was impressed. I was really impressed, it’s a beautiful diverse team.”

Amna Arabi
Amna Arabi
Submitted photo
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WORTHINGTON — Spurred by a desire to use her leadership skills and raise her 16-month-old in a quiet town, plus a strong love for Lake Okabena, Amna Arabi has returned to Worthington, this time as the executive director of the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council.

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“I'm excited, actually, to work with the SMOC and help bring more communities together,” said Arabi last week, fresh from a tour of SMOC’s Head Start building and still in her first week in the new position.

She praised the program and its director, Lori Gunnink, for their work with preschoolers and their families, bringing parents into the children’s learning processes and teaching them along the way.

“I toured a wonderful place. They are helping kids and families,” she said. “I was impressed. I was really impressed, it’s a beautiful diverse team.”

Arabi referred to a case in which, through the Head Start program, two divorced parents were able to work together to help their child, despite their differences, in order to foster the child’s well-being.

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SMOC, a community action agency, serves low-income people in Murray, Nobles, Pipestone and Rock counties, and also provides programs in other counties in the region — making Arabi the right fit for the position.

“The Board of Directors is confident that Amna will do a great job of leading SMOC, and we look forward to working with her,” said Cheryl Avenel-Navara, board chair, earlier this month.

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Arabi’s previous work includes serving as program coordinator for Healthy Families for Healthy Communities and Family Planning at WellShare International in Minneapolis. She also served as a refugee specialist with the Minnesota Council of Churches in the Twin Cities, with a focus on the Refugee Reception and Placement programs.

She has experience in grant writing, and prior to arriving in the U.S., she worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Sudan to find solutions for refugee issues in Sudan.

She previously lived in Worthington, and between 2013 and 2016 she carried out a housing assessment for the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership and volunteered with the Nobles County Integration Collaborative, walking all over the community to survey its housing stock.

Arabi hopes to bring more programs to SMOC and to Worthington in particular, assessing the community’s needs and helping new businesses and initiatives get started, solving community problems and helping people.

SMOC has a variety of programs, including Head Start, energy assistance, home-proofing for those who are aging or disabled, family planning and a dental program.

Arabi hopes to expand in the area of community health, training people to assist with navigating health care and the community health system, which can be complex even for those who don’t have language, cultural or other barriers.

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She’s also hoping to make the SMOC building more accessible to those with disabilities, as well as friendlier overall.

“People with disabilities are important to us,” she emphasized, and mentioned applying for grants for a community center. “I want to be able to help transform this.”

Arabi is already on the lookout for community partners, and hopes to listen to them, to hear their voices and fill in the gaps in services rather than competing with other groups.

“I cannot do it alone,” she said. “I’m trying to bring back the spirit of the community action program, and its goals.”

She has a vision of a welcome center, where a new community member — potentially a refugee or immigrant — has a place to go to access and be referred to services.

“There is a lot of potential,” she said. “It’s an asset for the community.”

A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Email: klucin@dglobe.com
Phone: (507) 376-7319
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