As we celebrate five years of working with refugees in Mankato, we wanted to give you a closer look at our cornerstone program: The Tapestry Project. To give you a firsthand look at Tapestry, we sat down with MCC Refugee Services staff member Nancy Altmann to talk about the program.
The Tapestry Project began organically as staff from Lloyd Management (a large rental company), MCC Refugee Services, and the Mankato Police Department noticed that they were spotting some of the same issues in the community. They wanted to bring people together to discuss those topics in a productive way where each side could identify needs and they could work together to build solutions. The project has come a long way since those initial conversations, but public safety and tenant education remain core parts of each Tapestry session.
What does a Tapestry session consist of?
A Tapestry Project session consists of 6 sessions held on Fridays that bring together refugees, community connectors, and staff from community partners. Each session covers a different topic (including public safety, tenant education, health care, and more), and the last meeting is a graduation celebration. Refugees are encouraged to bring family members along to the graduation, and we also invite guests from some of our major community partners.
Who are the refugees that attend?
Somali refugees are the majority of attendees, but refugees from other countries, including South Sudan, are also part of our community. Most are secondary migrants (refugees who were resettled in a different community and then moved to Mankato), and most have been in the US for less than 6 months. We work closely with an ESL provider to reach participants when they are still new to the community to offer information as quickly as we can. We also know that as refugees find jobs, it’s more difficult for them to attend our sessions.
Who are the community connectors? What draws them to get involved in this way?
Community connectors might be anyone from the community who wants to get to know their neighbors in Mankato. We aim to balance the class with equal numbers of refugees and community connectors, so sometimes we have a waiting list of people who are excited to be connectors.
Recently, Bishop Delzer (ELCA), who is a member of the MCC Board of Directors, issued an invitation to pastors in his diocese to participate in a Tapestry session. Pastor Jay Dahlvang of Bethlehem Lutheran Church answered the call to serve as a community connector. He was so impacted by the experience that he shared about it with his congregation in a recent sermon: “The more time I spend with people who are different than me, like the Tanzanians we met a year ago, or my new neighbors the past few weeks, the more I realize how much we are the same. How we all want the same things: We want to be accepted by our community. We want food, shelter, transportation, health care for ourselves and our family. We want a job that will help us provide these things for ourselves and our family. We want a good education and a better life for our children. We want to feel safe. We want to freely practice our faith. What strikes me is how much we are all alike.
As we love our neighbor, our love for our particular God revealed to us in Christ Jesus, increases. As we love our particular God, as we love Jesus, our love for our neighbor increases.”
We are so thankful to Pastor Jay for serving as a connector in our last session, and for so eloquently sharing about the experience with his congregation.
And who are the community partners involved?
This is one of the features of Tapestry that makes it so special. Our community partners include government partners from Mankato, North Mankato and Blue Earth County. From Mankato, we are supported by: the Mayor’s office, City Council, Pubic Safety, Community Education, Adult Basic Education, and members of the City Housing Department. From North Mankato, we are supported by the Mayor’s office, City Council, and the Public Safety Department. Non-profit and business members include: Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Minnesota; Lloyd Management and others. The Tapestry Project is city-wide, and it’s unique to cross borders between police officers, county workers, community members, and refugees. It’s very different to build relationships in this context than in a typical service provider/client relationship.
One of the most impactful parts of the class is the interaction between refugees and police officers. The police officers really enjoy being present for Tapestry, and it’s so eye-opening for refugees to learn about the difference between the police in the US and in their home countries. By the end of class, they feel comfortable standing next to a police officer to pose for a picture, and it’s a totally different relationship than it was on the first day.
You can learn even more about Tapestry, including ways to sign up to be a community connector on our website.