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Stevens FORWARD! -- Embracing all that people are and can be

By Katie Erdman

Hancock Record

Achieving one of the Stevens Forward Destiny Drivers could be as simple as just "understanding."

Understanding that, as a county, we are all part of one community. We eat, work, learn and play together. We shop in the same stores, attend some of the same events, and in some cases, worship together.

Even as we are each unique and diverse in these aspects, so is this county. Stevens County is made up of people from many different cultures and ethnic background who help shape its 'diversity' as a whole.

Even as our bodies are made up of many parts, each very important to the others, so is our county. With this in mind we can all help achieve one of the Destiny Drivers.

Under Social Inclusion, the Stevens Forward committee has set the following goal:

By 2013 we will have established an inclusive culture that embraces a diversity of people in our population and encourages their uniqueness to flourish and enhance our community.

Sal Monteagudo, a Morris resident of Philippine descent, will "Champion" this Destiny Driver. In order to better understand the goal of this driver, Sal explained the various aspects of the statement.

Inclusive culture

Culture means "way of life." We all have different ways of living that are defined by things such as where we work, what we eat, how we spend our leisure time, our ancestry and our beliefs.

In Stevens County, the different cultures can be seen through food establishments such as La Tienda, Bella Cucina, Jose's Burritos and the Grand Buffet. It can also be found at special suppers such as the Scandinavian meals featuring lutefisk, lefse and klub.

The University of Minnesota, Morris hosts annual events that the general community are all invited to, such as Pride of the Prairie, featuring organic foods, the Black Student Union's Soul Food Suppers and the Asian Student Association student group Taste of Asia, and the International Student Country Fair, which encourages studying and traveling abroad and connecting international students with the rest of the general community.

Also, the annual foreign film festivals encourages the general community to come to the Morris Theatre. Even a visit to the Stevens County Fair will give you a taste of other cultures.

Cultural differences can also be found in our leisure activities.

Summer events like the Donnelly Threshing Bee, Hancock's July 4 celebration and Morris' Prairie Pioneer Days have their own cultural traditions.

There are monthly dances and faith sponsored activities focusing on the developmentally disabled community. UMM's Circle of Nations Indian Association sponsors events such as a Pow Wow, and the college holds an annual Jazz Fest.

Embrace diversity

It is difficult to determine exactly how many different nationalities of residents reside in Stevens County. Local dairy farms employ a large number of migrant workers from Mexico. Pork producing facilities in the area employ workers from Eastern Europe. Local farms host interns from Brazil and the ARS Soil Lab and West Central Outreach Center have an ethnically diverse work force.

Encourage 'uniqueness'

Several current programs fold diverse cultures into the community. The Morris Literacy Project through Morris Community Education has a goal of making the county learning environment more learner-friendly. As of February 2009, the project has more than 50 registered students who have been tutored in English as a Second Language. The students come from many cultural ethnicities such as Mexican, Brazilian, Ecudoran, Honduran, Bulgarian, Ukranian, Moldovan, Chinese, Czech, Columbian and Japanese.

Many of these students are not only trying to learn the English language but also some of the terminology related to their work place. Topics can also include health care options and personal experiences in the community.

There also are many exchange-international students studying in the county's public school systems, both at the high school and college level. Sal encourages the entire community to embrace newcomers and learn from one another.

He said people shouldn't be afraid to say hello, as the fear of the unkown can be broken with a simple smile that can lead to a conversation and greater understanding.

Enhancing community

People accepting that they are all unique individuals is one simple step toward enhancing the community. That step can be taken through understanding, patience and the celebration of diversity.

Since Stevens FORWARD! began in 2007, the stewards who come from diverse backgrounds have been working together with a vision to move forward and make the county better for the next generation.

Sal explained that as one of these stewards and now as a champion for this Destiny Driver, he has witnessed the changes taking place in the area. He first came here 14 years ago when the largest ethnicity differences were probably between the Scandinavians, Germans and Irish. Today, these differences encompass a more visible and increasingly broader ethnic range. For example, the current influx of international students from China come with the help of Morris' Sister City program there.

He added that to make the county better, he encourages the community to join and make a difference.

People may not agree with all the issues and cultural practices, but we need to find commonality and start from there for moving forward. Embracing cultural diversity's benefits can enhance the economy. Many of these drivers benefit the others.

Sal quotes a popular Russian Proverb. "If everyone gives a thread, the poor man will have a shirt."

Are you a 'Champion'?

Stevens FORWARD! stewards are seeking "Champions" -- people who want to get involved in the initiative and spearhead a Destiny Driver. For more information, visit the Stevens FORWARD! Web site at, or contact Coordinator Roger McCannon via email at:, or by phone at (320) 287-0882