Written by Ivone Guillen (Immigrant Advocacy Manager) and Martin Martinez (Family Engagement Coordinator)
Nurturing community can happen in many different ways, including finding a safe place to gather with people whom you may not know or have had the opportunity to connect with and learn from, and discovering a unique space where people feel like they belong because they see each other as brothers and sisters and not strangers. It’s easy to lean towards what is comfortable and familiar, putting aside the Gospel’s call to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’
As we continue to find ourselves in uncertain times, whether it’s social, political, or economical, we do not lose hope and remain committed to fostering spaces of inclusivity where diverse immigrant populations can gather to learn, build relationships, and grow together. Creating opportunities to thrive is part of the mission of the Immigrant Advocacy initiative that Broetje Family Trust launched last fall and it has been a privilege to work alongside the immigrant community to find ways to build lasting connections and support for one another.
In September of this year, we had the honor of witnessing a moment that reflected the love and care we can have for the sojourner among us regardless of nationality or language spoken. For months we worked alongside our peers and volunteer community members to coordinate a gathering that offered resources and tools to immigrant communities on topics that were of interest to them. During the planning process, we were inspired by the enthusiasm of partners who were willing to participate in the Immigrant Resource Fair to share information on the programs and services they offered to community members. A true sign of community.
From the first moment of planning, logistics, and coordination, unity, purpose, and spirit were evoked to make this event successful. Every meeting and the endless hours of planning helped us understand the gifts and talents that God gifted each person and how to use them to visualize and make the event possible. As the Resource Fair drew closer, so did the stress, worry, and insecurity. We started asking big questions like: “Is everything really ready? What do we need? What are we missing? Will anyone come?” But little by little our hearts were filled with confidence and security that God is in control and that our efforts would be rewarded in the satisfaction of service and dedication to a growing community.
On the day of the event, we gathered in the Leo Center, a new community building in East Pasco with a rich history and story behind its name. After a long day of work, the volunteers steadily arrived. “Where do you need me? How can I help? I am tired from work, but I am here!” were comments that many shared. Conversations between volunteers in different roles, like cooking food and setting tables, emerged. “How are you? How was work? How is the food going?” The volunteers expressed their gratitude for sharing their time in service to community and for opportunities they had to create new friendships with others.
At one point during the fair, a guest was served dinner and asked, “Where should we pay for all this?” We let them know that this event was meant to provide a feeling of welcome and support for the community, and that we recognize the need to open our doors with kindness and welcome to all. It was our opportunity to break bread with our neighbors from around the region.
We saw faces from all cultures, generations, and multiple languages being spoken amongst the beautiful array of diverse and colorful clothing. The joy and vibrancy felt in the room reminded us that we can all share in community. Children with their parents were intrigued by their surroundings as they visited each of the booths in hopes of connecting with all of the 30 community-based organizations present. Laugher and joy filled much of the evening as people steered their way through the multiple spaces of the event: the auditorium where booths were located; the Leo Center patio where meals were served; and the recreation center where children’s activities resided.
When the children heard that we had activities specifically for them, they eagerly asked their parents if they could participate. We happily guided them to the recreation center, offering parents the time and space to feel like their children were safe before heading back to the fair. With their children cared for and occupied, parents and attendees like Heather shared, “Thank you so much for the kids’ activities. Today I was able to really take my time and visit each of the tables to focus on what I needed.”
Other participants felt the spirit in the room and were mesmerized by what they saw, a momentous event for the Tri-Cities that reflected the diversity and strong presence of our growing and beautiful immigrant community. One member enthusiastically shared, “Something is happening here! I’m not sure what but we need to talk about it in office tomorrow!” The same person came out to the next immigrant community monthly meeting to learn more about the immigrant advocacy initiative.
As we remember and reflect on the experience today, we recognized that gathering more than 300 people for this event was possible because the Tri-Cities community came together to embrace a new space of inclusivity for the common good.
If you feel inspired by what you read and want to engage, please reach out to Ivone Guillen here.