Column: How many of your neighbors do you know?
WORTHINGTON -- I know by name or face eight families within a one-block radius of my house. This is an all-time record for me. Even in Anoka, where I spent the first 16 years of my life, I only knew seven. In between Anoka and Worthington, I've l...
WORTHINGTON -- I know by name or face eight families within a one-block radius of my house. This is an all-time record for me. Even in Anoka, where I spent the first 16 years of my life, I only knew seven. In between Anoka and Worthington, I've lived in nine other cities, in two countries besides the U.S., and never known more than three of my neighbors.
I never would have believed it if you'd told me even a year ago that I would grow to love Worthington. It's strange for me to feel so immensely proud to be a part of any community, let alone a "small town." I have to admit that moving from a suburb of such a large metropolis to a small town had me worried about possible reactions to my husband and children's "tans." After all, when I asked a representative of New Ulm, a small town located west of the Cities, about the diversity in their town, she replied "Well, we have Germans, and Norwegians!" Yet, within a week of moving into Worthington, my neighbor from Guatemala was mowing my lawn, and another, who is native to Worthington, shared his fresh strawberries and has been incredibly generous with his handyman knowledge. Yet another neighbor invited our whole family to her grandson's birthday party just last week.
If the incredible neighbors and doctors weren't enough, I was granted the miracle of a paid, full-time, volunteer position with District 518's Community Education department through Americorps Vista. I have never been happier to go to work each morning. I have discovered that almost all things that pertain to education that are not housed in the three main schools are located in the West Learning Center. As a teacher, wife of a West African immigrant and mother to three multi-racial children, I was thrilled to find myself at the hub of probably the most diverse student and employee population in the county with the highest percentage of foreign-born population in all of Minnesota.
I am delightfully flabbergasted that the place that was supposed to be simply a stepping stone to the next on our career paths is now the place that I call home. And I do so proudly. For what other place could you have the safety, and community of a small town, with the diversity of any major city?
If you haven't been able to meet many of your neighbors, or are not one of the privileged few who work at West Learning Center, there is another way to meet your neighbors. At the West Learning Center, we provide Adult Basic Education that includes classes for English language learners at every level, GED classes, citizenship classes and even parenting classes. Our students come from countries all over the world and would be so thankful if the people of Worthington would share their incredible hospitality with them by helping our students to learn to read, speak English or pass their GED or citizenship test. We also need caring people to assist the teachers at Prairie Elementary and the middle school with the district's after-school program.
You don't need to speak any language other than English. Even if your English is limited, but better than our newest immigrants or refugees, you can help. You do not need any previous training or special degree. If you are a teacher, who is keeping their license current, you can actually receive CEUs for volunteering with us. If you're a mom who is earning mommy bucks (vouchers that can be redeemed at the Helping Hand Pregnancy Center for various baby supplies), you can get those, too! If you have a job, help with the after-school programs, or any of the other evening classes we offer. If you don't have a job, why not help our adult students during the day? We offer classes from 8:45 a.m. to 8:45 p.m., so just about anyone should be able to fit volunteering into their schedule. Volunteering also looks great on your résumé, and just might lead to some job opportunities; you never know. If you don't have transportation or child care, we may be able to help you out there as well.
It all comes down to this: there really is no good reason not to connect to this incredible "neighborhood" through volunteering. Who knows? You might just meet that next-door neighbor; you will definitely meet a "Worthington neighbor" in any of our classes. So come join us in crossing the cultural boundaries and continuing to prove what an inspirational community Worthington is.
Jennifer S. Kouame is the literacy volunteer coordinator at West Learning Center.