Representatives from 10 of Garden City’s immigrant communities and six of its organizations and public entities met at St. Catherine Hospital Saturday for the first meeting of the Southwest Kansas Ethnic Empowerment Network.

The network is a reinvigoration of Tyson Fresh Foods Chaplain Jonathon Galia’s Coalition of Ethnic Minority Leaders of Southwest Kansas, which intended to bring together the leaders of Garden City’s immigrant and minority groups and connect them to resources that would help them succeed in the region.

Galia said the name of the original group, which he founded almost 10 years ago, unintentionally left out city and organization representatives. He said he hopes the new network brings together people from all areas of Garden City in a way that introduces, connects and aids minority groups in adapting to the community.

“There is a constant need for all of us as we continue to aspire for a homogenous community where we constantly experience a blend of culture, a blend of languages. We see a need for an improved communication among the different peoples,” Galia said.

On Saturday, more than 20 people from a dozen different backgrounds sat in a square in one of St. Catherine’s classrooms, with laminated placards announcing the communities they represented. There were leaders of immigrants from Myanmar, El Salvador, the Ethiopian ethnic group Oromo, the Philippines, Somalia, Kenya, Vietnam, Sudan, Haiti and Eritrea.

Among them sat the network’s 2018 advisory board: Galia, Garden City Police Chief Michael Utz, City of Garden City Human Resources Director Allie Medina, St. Catherine Hospital Vice President Kayte Fulton, Catholic Agency for Migration and Refugee Services Director LeVita Rohlman, Tyson Human Resources Manager Barb Larsen and LiveWell Finney County Health Coalition Special Projects Consultant Troy Unruh, who came on behalf of Callie Dyer, the coalition’s executive director.

Garden City Public Schools Superintendent Steve Karlin, Western Kansas Community Foundation Executive Director Conny Bogaard, District Courts Administrator Kurtis Jacobs and Cultural Relations worker Verna Weber will also serve on the board but could not be present.

Minority group representatives introduced themselves and spoke briefly about the size and experience of their respective communities. The leaders themselves were diverse. Besides their cultural backgrounds, their ages ranged from college students to grandparents. Some had lived in Garden City a couple of years, others a couple of decades.

A few, like Omoro representative Dursitu Hassen, spoke of resources and information her community needed, while some, like Haiti representative Louis Vertilus, detailed their personal experiences of coming to America and then Garden City.

With help from Rohlman, the group addressed the logistical and emotional differences between "refugee," "permanent resident" and "citizen" status, and how immigrants could maintain each. Somali representative Ifruh Ahmed discussed her own path to citizenship.

Galia and Utz discussed how immigrants who come from corrupt states are often wary of American government or law enforcement officials and asked representatives what Garden City leaders could do to build trust between minority groups and the police.

Fulton asked those in attendance about any community’s entrepreneurship ideas, and what the city could do to make them possible.

It was a group dedicated to access and education and listening, a dedication that extended past the meeting’s run time. Afterward, attendees ate and spoke and learned from each other.

Similar meetings will continue monthly throughout the year, and Galia said he hopes they will grow to include leaders from more countries and more city organizations. Galia said future meetings could include presentations from organizations around town, including the police department, to better help immigrant groups adapt to and thrive in Garden City.


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