As I drive up to the classroom for the second day of cultural orientation workshops, I can’t help but worry about attendance. Will students make it to class having only learned how to ride the bus the day before? Will those with longer commutes make their various transfers and connections? Will they be willing to endure Minnesota’s January weather in order to attend class? As I turn the corner, my worries immediately vanish and are replaced with a combination of amazement and excitement as I see all of the students lined up outside the classroom, thirty minutes early, and patiently waiting for me to arrive and class to begin. As we gather around the table and open our notebooks, I can’t help but smile having been reminded, yet again, of our clients’ resilience and eagerness to learn.
I’ve had the privilege of being a part of MCC Refugee Service’s team as a Refugee AmeriCorps member since early June. My year of service has centered on coordinating and enhancing MCC Refugee Service’s Cultural Orientation Workshops into a more intensive community orientation for MCC’s clients. The purpose of cultural orientation is to provide clients with the education, skills, and resources to succeed in their new community and attain self-sufficiency. The curriculum covers the topics of transportation, safety, health, education, immigration, renter’s education, home orientation, and job readiness. I have been tasked with creating and updating curriculums, engaging new community and volunteer partnerships and increasing accessibility to cultural orientation.
This year, our Cultural Orientation Workshops continue to be enriched by our wonderful volunteer and community partnerships. Our volunteer and community partners provide invaluable insight and expertise on the class topics and enable us to provide our clients with the most up-to-date information. Community Liaisons from Metro Transit and the Minneapolis and St. Paul Sheriff’s offices visit our Transportation and Safety classes to teach, answer questions, and engage our clients in important dialogue. Our newest community partner, WellShare International, has strengthened our Health class by having their reputable community health workers present tailored, health curriculum and connect our clients to various health resources. It’s been a joy to see our community partners engage with our clients in the classroom and I am so thankful for their part in strengthening our Cultural Orientation programming.
To improve the accessibility of our Cultural Orientation Workshops, I have recently launched our in-home curriculum. Our staff and volunteers are now able to provide invaluable education to a greater number of our clients and to tailor the education to the needs and interests of each individual. Each time I visit a client’s home to provide in-home cultural orientation, I’ve been impressed by their hospitality and enthusiasm to learn more about their new community.
During the last day of our most recent Cultural Orientation Workshop, a student approached me to share some exciting news. He told me he had wanted to explore the city, so he rode the bus downtown and then rode the entirety of both the blue and green light rail lines. Once again, I was left amazed by how our cultural orientation programming served as a catalyst for one of our clients to continue learning more about his new community and achieve greater self-sufficiency.