By MARY TAN
AAP Staff Writer
MINNEAPOLIS — Moving to a different town where you don’t know anyone can be stressful. But what if you moved to a new country, where the people speak a different language and the culture isn’t anything like you’re used to?
Every year hundreds of refugees and new immigrants arrive in Minnesota, sometimes alone perhaps feeling a bit lonely.
The city of Minneapolis wants to make sure their new residents don’t feel that way. That’s why they recently launched an initiative called Hello Neighbor to personally welcome recent arrivals.
Gao Nhia Vang from the Neighborhood and Community Relations Department in the city of Minneapolis says the program targets the city’s large immigrant and refugee population who might not otherwise be as familiar to city programs and services. “They may not have strong connections and support networks and may struggle to navigate very new and complex governments,” said Vang recently.
A major goal of the initiative is to showcase a positive image of local government and Minneapolis residents. Hello Neighbor volunteers and staff from local resettlement agencies reach out to the recent arrivals usually at their home or at community events.
Every new resident is given a welcome bag filled with a refillable Tap Minneapolis water bottle, a pie, coupons, pre-paid calling cards, and information about city services and resources. Hello Minneapolis also created videos in four languages – English, Spanish, Hmong and Somali.
Supporters believe the program has been highly successful in bridging cultural barriers. “It helps connect the city’s long-term residents with the new residents,” said Vang.
The program was created by the Neighborhood and Community Relations Department in conjunction with the City Coordinator’s office. City staff pitched the idea to the Bush Foundation, which funded the project. No city money was used.
Since inception of Hello Neighbor, the program has been expanded to include all new residents, regardless of where they’re from. Minneapolis’ version of Welcome Wagon is now part of the city’s effort to strengthen neighborhoods and encourage civic engagement.
Vang says Hello Neighbor could use more volunteers and donations. Everyone is welcome to participate and local businesses are asked to donate coupons, gift cards or anything else that might be useful to new residents. The initiative particularly needs volunteers who can speak Hmong or any other Asian language.
If you are interested in volunteering or know of someone who needs to be welcomed, please contact Mohamed Hajin, Access and Outreach Specialist with the city’s Neighborhood and Community Relations Department at 612- 673-5475 or email him at [email protected].