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Celebrating a welcoming community for new arrivals and life-long residents in west central Minnesota

The Southwest Initiative Foundation is helping several area communities hold Welcoming Week events this week. The national event is geared toward making everyone feel welcome in their communities, no matter how long they have lived there. The theme is “Belonging Begins with US.”

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Last year's Welcoming Week celebration in Olivia was a small but successful event. This year the planners are hoping for an even bigger turnout. Willmar's Welcoming Week 2021 celebration is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Selvig International Park in downtown. Contributed / Jennifer U'Ren

WILLMAR — Based on the 2020 United States census , the demographics of the country are shifting, with various cultures and ethnicities merging into one community like never before. Those trends are showing up even here in south central and western Minnesota. In Willmar, specifically, the percentage of the population coming from races others than white is growing as the overall city population grows.

Welcoming Week, an annual celebration led by nonprofit Welcoming America , has a goal to bring all those people together to help create cohesive and happy communities where all feel they belong.

This year's Welcoming Week, with the theme "Belonging Begins with US," starts Sept. 10 and runs through Sept. 19. The Southwest Initiative Foundation, a member of Welcoming America, has been supporting area communities in making these celebrations happen for a second year.

"This lines up with our mission and values we have here," said Pablo Obregon, Southwest Initiative Foundation community engagement director. "We decided to embrace the opportunity."

While last year's events were smaller due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year even more communities are taking part. Communities participating this year are from around the foundation's service area and include Glencoe, Granite Falls, Hutchinson, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, Marshall, Montevideo, Willmar, Windom and Worthington.

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"We are definitely excited with the responses of these communities that have decided to embrace this event," Obregon said.

Willmar and Montevideo will be holding their events on Sept. 11, while Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg will participate Sept. 12. Granite Falls will hold its Welcoming Week activities Sept. 18.

Selvig International Park, at the intersection of Becker Avenue and Fourth Street Southwest, will play host to Willmar's celebration . From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 11, activities such as chalk art, bubbles, drumming performances, Latina dancers, Community Songbook singing and henna will take place. There were also be community resources — people looking for information about the Willmar community and organizations might be able to find it at the event.

"They see this as an opportunity to connect with the community again," said Sarah Swedburg, business development manager with the Kandiyohi County and city of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

These activities will happen in conjunction with the Miles 4 Mentor run, Willmar Main Street's Touch-a-Truck event and First Presbyterian's 150th celebration, all happening in downtown Willmar.

"It will be the place to be, that is for sure," said Swedburg.

Montevideo will have its event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 11 at Smith Park. There will be a public art project, live music and food.

On Sept. 12 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Kerkhoven Pool Shelter, the KMS event will include face painting, door prizes, drawings, Sparky the Fire Dog and a Mexican folk dance performance by Raices de mi Tierra. Various organization will also be present.

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Granite Falls is creating a community portrait for Welcoming Week. From noon to 4 p.m. on Sept. 18, at Falls Cafe & Canoe, community members can get their profiles drawn, answer a question about "belonging" and receive free treats. The drawings will be used to create a large art series retained by the Southwest Initiative Foundation and exhibited in various places.

"The activities are fun and interactive and just educational," said Obregon.

The mission of Welcoming Week and all of its community celebrations is to celebrate everyone who calls these communities home, no matter their backgrounds, and to help build relationships between individuals and increase civic and community engagement.

"In order for a community to reach its full potential, everyone needs to participate day in and day out over the life of the community," Obregon said.

Swedburg and Obregon hope area residents take the time to visit and participate in the activities being held across the region and to come together as one community.

"It is an opportunity to celebrate anyone who calls Willmar home, whether it has been 20 years or five weeks," Swedburg said. "It is a great opportunity to come together."

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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