Searching for common ground

Series of community conversations lead to informal diversity discussions

—Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Adri Sietstra Storm Lake Police Chief and Public Safety Director Mark Prosser, left, is pictured above with Webster City Community Vitality Director Lindsay Henderson, right, during a community conversation about diversity at Fuller Hall on Friday afternoon.

Members of the community took part in an informal discussion Friday afternoon at Fuller Hall about how to best serve the diverse community Webster City boasts.

The discussion was led by Webster City Community Vitality Director Lindsay Henderson and Kathy Getting, Coalition Coordinator for Power Up YOUth.

The idea for this community conversation stemmed from a Courageous Conversations workshop Getting observed and worked through earlier this year.

Getting talked about the need to understand and acknowledge individuals’ privilege and how it contributes to how individuals communicate on a day-to-day basis in the community.

Henderson explained her role in the community and why she was present at the meeting.

“I’m charged with helping to move other quality of life and community engagement projects forward,” said Henderson. “That might be addressing issues like housing, or in this case, diversity.”

The purpose of this meeting is to ensure that community members are engaged at all levels. This includes fire, police, city, business and recreation.

“This is still very early in the conversation and very early in the planning stages. Out of this, we want it to not just be a one and done,” said Henderson. “We are thinking of doing a larger forum in the spring.”

Storm Lake Police Chief and Public Safety Director Mark Prosser was the guest speaker at Friday’s meeting.

Prosser is well known for his work and commitment to helping others, embracing diversity and cultural awareness and the promotion of racial equity for all citizens. Prosser was a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Achievement Award honoree in 2017.

Prosser made note of Storm Lake’s large ethnic population and the diverse amount of cultures that reside there.

“Storm Lake has been through a shift in demographics. Storm Lake continues to go through a shift in demographics,” said Prosser. “It’s a work in progress that will never end. It will really never end for any of our communities as our country is changing.”

According to Prosser, there are 35 languages spoken in Storm Lake. Nineteen languages are spoken in the public school system by students.

As students are the future. Prosser explained communities could look toward the school systems in their area to see how that would impact the future of the community.

“You can tell what kind of shift you are going to have in your community by what your classrooms look like,” Prosser said. “That’s where your future is. That’s where the community growth is.”

According to Prosser, dealing with a shift in demographics is never-ending.

“It’s perpetual service that we give to all our citizens,” said Prosser. “It doesn’t matter who they are.”

The fear of the unknown and change can often hold people and the communities they reside in back during great times of change.

The number one challenge Storm Lake faced in the wake of the coming together of a multitude of cultures was the language barrier.

“You conquer language you conquer everything,” said Prosser. “That is the number one issue.”

In order to work through language barriers, Prosser suggested a variety of resources that were helpful to the city of Storm Lake.

• Cultivating relationships with bi-lingual residents

• Develop employment positions for reliable interpreters

• There are also a number of apps that can be downloaded on smart phones

Storm Lake created a task force to see what needs were unmet and had to be fulfilled in order to cross the cultural barriers. They looked at public safety, education, health and social services.

Storm Lake worked to create a multi-lingual arsenal that works in specific positions throughout the community. Members of law enforcement and other city positions also worked at developing relationships with different cultures to establish trust and work towards ideal communication.

Patience is also a key factor in creating a positive, vibrant community, said Prosser.

Prosser also explained the need to bring representation of all cultures to the table. This will help determine how the needs of all citizens in Webster City can be served.