Recently-arrived Somali children dashed around the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota with excitement, finding new and imaginative exhibits to explore while their mothers found a much needed space to connect and build community in a new home.
One of our program goals for new families in Mankato is the facilitation of sustainable social connections for refugees, and Mankato Refugee Services staff realized that the museum would be a wonderful resource for families with children. Our staff members Nancy Altmann and Habiba Rashid reached out to museum outreach staff to see if the museum would be open to scheduling special welcome events for refugee families and received an enthusiastic welcome. As museum Community Outreach and Impact Director Sue Larsen said, “The Children’s Museum is for all families. The board and founding mothers wanted the museum to be open and welcoming for all families and we want refugee families to know that it’s a place for them.”
MCC staff scheduled three outings to the museum and the same group of 7 Somali moms and their 25 children attended. MCC coordinated transportation and carpools and worked with museum staff to assist each family in applying for a free museum membership and making sure that they felt comfortable getting to and visiting the museum on their own.
MCC’s Community Navigator Habiba Rashid shared about how the initiative was so much more successful than she could have imagined. The mothers raved about the opportunity to allow their kids to play freely in a safe and engaging space and were so happy to come home with tired and happy children who were calm and ready for bedtime. They also found unexpected community with the other moms in the group and formed carpool and play groups as a result of time spent together at the museum. The chance to play with non-Somali children was a welcome opportunity to help them to learn about and engage with other cultures. Habiba warmly expressed her appreciation for museum staff saying, “They were so very welcoming there and I take my hat off for the way they welcomed the families, the respect they showed, and the way were able just talk and work together to help families.”
In our review of this program connection, the Somali participants expressed that without MCC’s initiative, they would never have known about the museum, or would have assumed that it was too expensive to visit. The Children’s Museum Community Outreach and Impact Director Sue Larsen recognized the importance of these welcome events saying, “Sometimes the biggest hurdle is just getting to the other side of the door.” For new members of our community, helping them “get to the other side of the door,” is a key aspect of offering welcome and giving them the tools they need to succeed in Minnesota.