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Creating Home Together: Welcoming Week in West Des Moines

West Des Moines Schools Welcoming Week

September 16, 2020

In 2014, after two decades of living and working throughout the U.S. and abroad, my family and I decided to settle down in West Des Moines. I was eager to move back to my home state, but as someone who values diversity and multiculturalism, I had reservations about raising my own children in Iowa. Throughout my travels, I was enriched by the friendships I made with diverse people from across the globe. I worried that my kids wouldn’t have the chance to experience the same kinds of unique friendships if they grew up in the Midwest.

But when my oldest son started kindergarten at West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS), I quickly learned that my fears were unwarranted. As we got to know his classmates, we learned that many spoke languages other than English and had come from a variety of places to make their new home in West Des Moines — just like us. In fact, so many families from other places have made their new homes here, it led to the creation of a new position at WDMCS Community Education: Intercultural Outreach Coordinator. With my background in working with immigrant and refugee communities in Iowa, this new role was the perfect fit for me; I was thrilled to have the opportunity to make a difference in my new community. As Intercultural Outreach Coordinator, I help provide multilingual families with the support and resources they need for their children to achieve school success. I also create opportunities for cross-cultural connections within the WDMCS community.

Arriving in a new place and starting over can be an overwhelming experience for anyone, especially those who are learning the language and how to navigate unfamiliar systems and surroundings. One of the first places that refugee and immigrant families connect with their new community is within the school system. Ensuring refugee and immigrant students and their families feel welcome and accepted in their school environments is not only foundational for their academic success but vital to their longer-term economic and social success. WDMCS Community Education’s intercultural outreach programs welcome newcomers into our schools to learn English, gain a better understanding of school culture in the US and engage with the school community through volunteering. Yet we cannot do this work alone. Welcoming newcomers is a community effort that requires contributions from both social institutions and long-term residents.

Welcoming Week

This year WDMCS Community Education is partnering with the West Des Moines Public Library to celebrate Welcoming Week and its theme, “Creating Home Together,” with virtual storytimes highlighting books from the Meet Your Neighbors Story Boxes. These Story Boxes were created by WDMCS Community Education and the WDM Library to help students and families learn more about our neighbors around the world. Each Story Box focuses on a different cultural group found in our WDMCS neighborhoods. Inside, you’ll find both fiction and nonfiction books, music and a reading and listening guide you can use at home or in your classroom. We believe that shared stories, food, crafts, music and activities can foster understanding across differences and help us be good neighbors to all who make the West Des Moines area their home.

As our neighborhoods grow more diverse, our community is enriched by new voices, different experiences and unique perspectives. Welcoming Week gives us time to reflect on this truth and recognize the contributions of immigrants and refugees to the fiber of our country. This is a time to celebrate the values that unite us as neighbors, parents and colleagues and make our cities more welcoming to newcomers and everyone who calls our community home. We invite you to join us in creating a welcoming community!

Join us on the library’s Facebook page to listen; storytimes are scheduled for 10:30-10:45 a.m. on Monday, September 14, Wednesday, September 16, and Friday, September 18. Meet Your Neighbors Story Boxes are also available for check-out at the WDM Library.

Through the Global DSM: International Talent Strategy, The Partnership works to establish Greater Des Moines (DSM) as a global community attracting and retaining foreign-born persons to the region. Check out more Global DSM stories.

Caryn Kelly

Caryn Kelly is the intercultural outreach coordinator with WDMCS Community Education. Caryn has worked extensively with immigrant and refugee populations in Iowa and on the US/Mexico border and is passionate about helping these families thrive in new communities.