There is a new non-profit in town that’s helping connect newcomers to the area and creating a greater sense of community and belonging for everyone. That non-profit is called Conexiones, a Spanish word meaning “Connections.” Although the group works largely with the growing Hispanic population in Stevens County, their mission extends to any newcomer to the area. Conexiones seeks to empower immigrant families in the Stevens County community, not just Morris. They also strongly encourage volunteerism and show ways to volunteer, while helping newcomers maneuver in their new community.
Conexiones was started about a year ago by Amy Schmidgall, Vanessa Sandoval, Nico Guerrero, Stephanie Cid and Martha Reyes. The idea started when new employees from Riverview felt a need for a stronger connection to their new community and thought an organization could help new families who came to town. Conexiones also mentors families, as in they find out what the new family’s needs are and assign them a family to work with to show them around and help them get acquainted in the things they are looking for. The new family can then go to that family to answer any questions they may have and for help in different areas of getting settled into the community.
Conexiones does not have any paid staff and no members, just a board of directors very passionate about the mission of helping newcomers in the community feel welcome and a part of the community. Amy Schmidgall, Executive Director of Conexiones says she loves seeing the look on newcomers faces when they come to the community and feel that they are not alone and are welcome here. “Realizing we are all one community and the culture here is to do that for each other,” says Amy. “You are empowered by being helped and you are empowered by helping others. It’s a cycle that needs to happen.”
In the future, they hope to have more events that promote and encourage all members of the Stevens County Community to come together and have various events together. For example, they would like to have a cultural center open to anyone that would like to share pieces of their culture and heritage with others. There could be meals and lessons on how to make meals like lefse or tamales and everyone in the community would be invited to participate. Sharing of various cultural dances is also an idea. Another idea would be to have an English roundtable like they have a Spanish roundtable at the university in TMC. It could be a great opportunity to bring all community together and practice English in a non-confrontational setting.
Although they have a lot of hopes and dreams for the future, starting a new non-profit is a slow process and Amy admits it’s hard to be patient with the excitement there is around helping others and getting things going. “You just want to help people and it feels like the legal processes take a long time,” she says. Conexiones is still waiting on official government status as a non-profit organization, but they have been able to do a lot of services for people in the meantime. They were able to work with and help four families over the summer. They also created welcome baskets for new families with goodies from local businesses in them. In the future, they hope to make the baskets bigger and have more things in them including information on how to set up cable, electricity, emergency info and important numbers to call available in English and Spanish. They are also working on having new baby baskets since many families who move here do not have family in the area.
Conexiones is not a politically affiliated organization and is just about helping people and building community. It is not just for new Hispanics to the community but anyone in need. “Our objective is to build community and that takes everyone to do so,” says Amy. “The best way to build community is to help people feel empowered. We are stronger all around for that.”