Efforts to make Columbus feel like “home sweet home” for people of all backgrounds will take City leaders and Centro Hispano to “The Land Down Under” this year.
The City of Columbus and Centro Hispano for years have diligently been working to make the community inclusive and more welcoming for all. But recently, the two entities were two of just 16 recipients selected from across the world by Welcoming America to participate in its Rural Welcoming Communities Exchange.
As part of it, the recipients from across the United States and Australia will be involved in international virtual and in-person exchanges with peers, attend substantive training workshops and have access to multimedia materials to build context for deep learning.
“Of our population in Columbus, about 25% identifies as an immigrant. All of the people in our community are vital to the economic success of Columbus, including our immigrant population,” City Administrator Tara Vasicek said. “We want to be doing everything we can to make sure they’re comfortable here and that we’re doing our best to make Columbus a great home for everybody.”
Although the program will feature many virtual visits, it will require participants to gather for a five-night stay in San Jose, California, in April when it begins and a five-night stay in Australia at its conclusion in October. Program expenses are covered by Welcoming America, a nonprofit organization that provides the roadmap and support institutions' need to become more inclusive toward immigrants and all other residents.
Centro Hispano is a member of Welcoming America and reached out to Vasicek and the City about the program as it required members to work collaboratively with a local governmental agency, according to Centro Hispano Welcoming & Belonging Director Elizabeth Rodriguez.
“Tara is an awesome person, so for us to have the full support of people like Tara and the mayor (Jim Bulkley), it means a lot,” Rodriguez said. “It’s immensely gratifying and tells us that while Columbus is already a welcoming city, the City of Columbus is willing to step up to make it even more welcoming.”
Vasicek said she and the City as a whole have long desired to find more ways to collaborate with Centro Hispano, a nonprofit organization established in 2009 that provides services in immigration, education, and business, primarily in Platte, Colfax and Madison counties. This program was a perfect opportunity.
“There has never been really one big thing we’ve been able to do together, so this program will hopefully education me, all of our City leaders and Centro Hispano on how we can collectively do a better job of being a welcoming community,” Vasicek said, noting the population will only continue to become more diverse over time. “I’m looking forward to learning exactly what concrete steps the City can take so we can be as welcoming and inclusive as we can be.”
The RWCE is administered by Welcoming America in collaboration with Welcoming Australia and its Welcoming Cities program. Welcoming America and Welcoming Australia are partners in the Welcoming International Alliance, a coalition of national welcoming networks convened by Welcoming America as part of its Welcoming International initiative.
All those who applied had to be considered a rural community, serve a small city of no more than 50,000 residents and not be an inner suburb of a major metropolitan area. The City and Centro Hispano each had to submit applications by the Jan. 31st deadline and then were evaluated as a pair and individually.
“We’re excited to work together with the City of Columbus to make this an even more welcoming community,” Rodriguez said. “This program is an awesome way we can further our initiatives.”
(ABOUT THE PHOTO: City Administrator Tara Vasicek, left, Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley and Centro Hispano Welcoming & Belonging Director Elizabeth Rodriguez pose for a photo at City Hall shortly after learning the City and the nonprofit were chosen to participate in the Rural Welcoming Communities Exchange program)