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K-State Today

August 4, 2023

Community visit spotlight: K-State Research and Extension agents collaborate to meet needs of immigrant populations

Submitted by Mirna Bonilla

Jennifer LaSalle, family and community wellness extension agent, and Anthony Reardon, horticulture agent, facilitate a conversation on how community partners are meeting the needs of their diverse community in Finney County.

Immigrants face significant challenges to inclusivity in educational settings. These challenges can lead to barriers for some to participate in local K-State Research and Extension programs. But agents in the West Plains Extension District have been building their reach with immigrants in Finney County with a new approach. They are being intentional about removing barriers for individuals to not only participate but feel welcomed, which fosters new relationships and develops a sense of community.

K-State's recent regional community visit in Finney County highlighted the diversity of southwest Kansas. For example, more than 35 languages are spoken in the public schools in Garden City.

Jennifer LaSalle, family and community wellness extension agent, has focused on creating an inclusive space for community members.

"Extension educators are very passionate about their work in the community. Adapting programs to meet the needs of the community is what extension is all about," LaSalle said. "Educators should always reflect on their programs and acknowledge where adaptations need to be made in order for their programs to be beneficial."

Translation of services has been one adaptation to LaSalle's programming. LaSalle uses local interpreters to translate flyers and materials and provide direct programming. Local interpreters have helped her reach new and different populations.

Collaborating with other agencies also has proved beneficial in reaching underserved audiences.

"The partnerships I have formed in the community have helped me in promoting programs, informing me of the community needs and using me as a resource in areas they don't have the time, knowledge or resources," LaSalle said.

Anthony Reardon, former Finney County horticulture agent who is now with Johnson County, said Finney County was one of the most diverse counties in the state of Kansas. Reardon agreed that a focus of extension was to meet the needs of communities through adaptation and collaboration.

"A prominent topic in extension education is 'reaching across lines and breaking communication boundaries,' and I feel the regional community visit session highlighted a good start to that conversation, especially via the partnerships occurring between local community organizations with the same goals," Reardon said.

During the Finney County visit, extension agents and community partners discussed how local agencies have embraced change in their local demographics through intentional collaborations. LaSalle and Reardon facilitated the session focused on three areas: highlighting K-State Research and Extension's collaborations with local partners to bring nutrition and horticulture education to immigrants in Garden City; identifying challenges posed to the immigrant community; and showing how community leaders are forging the road ahead through the integration of community resources.

Reardon said local community partnerships and collaborations only made them stronger and more efficient in Finney County.

"Pooling our resources is the best option when it comes to meeting the extraneous needs that accompany communication boundaries," Reardon said. "Luckily, there are numerous organizations in Finney County with similar objectives to Extension."

Marci Smith, Catholic Charities director of family services, agrees there is such an abundant amount of work that partnerships and collaborations are essential at the local level.

"Our partnership with Extension is important because it allows our clientele to learn new skills and develop new resources," Smith said. "It allows newcomers to receive services, resources and build relationships with other areas of our community."

Catholic Charities serves 28 counties in southwest Kansas with offices in four locations: Dodge City, Garden City, Great Bend and Liberal. The organization is dedicated to serving those in need through service and advocacy and promotes the dignity of every human person.

Smith said the Reception and Placement Program and the Office of Refugee Resettlement Programs are the most valuable to the Finney County area. Catholic Charities services help integrate newcomers and refugees to become self-sufficient members of their communities.

"Our services create a 'one-stop shop' where newcomers and refugees can be connected with services and resources within the community," Smith said.

Smith helped develop the Finney County session to highlight how KSRE and local partners work together to embrace the ever-changing needs of their diverse community and create a welcoming space in Garden City.

"I think being surrounded by diversity helps to dispel myths and ultimately breeds understanding and acceptance," Smith said.

Explore K-State's regional community visits and engagement partnerships through our StoryMap or find complete information about regional community visits. K-State faculty, staff or students who are interested or currently immersed in university-community engagement work can contact the Office of Engagement for opportunities to begin or grow scholarly work.

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