The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 29, 2000 Issue
Special Section:
Respect Life Month

Changing the face of one Green Bay neighborhood

Resource Center relies on everyone's input to flourish

'Renewing for the 21st Century:
Interracial Harmony'

By Rebecca Weiss
Compass Intern

Smiley faces and the simple "Everyone welcome!" in the windows sum up the ideal of the Family Resource Center: joining people of all kinds to celebrate and benefit from diversity.

Established in 1995, the multilingual and multicultural organization, located in the building of Fort Howard Elementary School in dowtown Green Bay, provides a place for the neighborhood of the Fort Howard and Jefferson school districts to meet, learn and organize.

Its founding was initiated by residents of the Broadway area, who saw the opportunity to enrich and revitalize the inner-city neighborhood by bringing together all residents, of all cultures and backgrounds, to share their talents and knowledge. The idea was to learn from one another while breaking down ethnic barriers.

Paula Lambert, executive director of the center, explains the center's maxim, "We're learning together - whether you're a participant in one of our programs, one of the staff members or a volunteer. It's not about 'us' and 'them.' We're all in it together."

The program of the center is varied and plentiful. There are activities for the whole family: workshops, playgroups, adult and children's educational classes. The focus is on the family, considered the "cornerstone for the healthy growth and development of children" in the Resource Center's mission statement.

Supported mainly by the Children's Trust Fund and the Redevelopment Authority of Green Bay, the center relies upon volunteers, donations, grants, and neighborhood fundraising. All services are free of charge.

"When the Resource Center just started out, sponsors had some difficulties grasping our concept," remembers Teri van den Heuval, operations manager. "But now that we have proven ourselves, finances are not a concern. What we are always running out of is space to expand."

Not only immigrants and minorities are involved in the center, but long-time Green Bay residents, too. "We find out that though we have many different customs and traditions, we are more alike than we realize," says Sr. Jacqueline Capelle.

A member of the Bay Settlement Sisters, Sr. Cappelle is director of family literacy at the Resource Center. She teaches English as a second language to adults and children as well as citizenship classes. "The classes are a teacher's dream. I have students who want to learn, and who ask for homework," marvels Sr. Capelle.

Yee Vang, a Hmong refugee, is one of these enthusiastic students. She comes to the center five times a week for citizenship classes and takes as many language classes as she can.

"I come mainly to learn," she says, "but I come to the center whenever there is something going on. I have so much fun here, and I meet people."

Apart from the actual programs, the non-profit center helps out wherever it can. It acts as part of a network, collaborating with different aid groups. Whenever the center cannot help out directly, it refers the family to another organization.

Less immediate forms of assistance are offered as well, like getting to know the area.

"A lot of immigrants tend to travel solely from home to work, because they are afraid of getting lost," says Sr. Capelle. "We get them acquainted with interesting and fun places in the region."

However, the neighborhood does not view the center as something that serves them. Instead, residents understand themselves as part of the center. Self-reliance is an essential part of the center's concept.

"We don't talk about levels, not about professionals and non-professionals here. We all think of ourselves as staff," explains Sr. Capelle, meaning the residents, too.

Staff and community work hand in hand. "You teach as you do it. You learn as you do it. That's the kind of training that we do," says Sr. Capelle. Right now, she herself is learning Hmong, assisted by neighborhood people.

Language classes are taught not just for practicality. The idea is that communication breaks down barriers. Immigrants who do not speak English are usually forced to remain amongst their own. The center tries to mediate by planning events where the different nationalities gather. Group dinners take place the second Wednesday of every month. Apart from the food, there is entertainment, like a silent auction or a pet show, that compels all the participants to interact.

The religious approach of the Resource Center is ecumenical. Many immigrants are non-Christian, the largest group being Hmong. Though Sr. Capelle is a vowed religious woman, she does not make her religion an issue. She thinks of her position as a "ministry of presence," offering people the opportunity to investigate if they want.

"If somebody asks me," Sr. Capelle says, :I answer religious questions. But I do not promote being Catholic."

Adult educator Manijeh Ghaffari from Iran, and early childhood program coordinator Rene Hall, an African American, are all part of a nine-member staff that itself reflects the diversity of the neighborhood.

Because most of the staff live in the area and have children in area schools, they have a personal interest in creating a cordial and nurturing neighborhood.

May Lee Lor is family advocate and coordinator of the Hmong Voices Project. Originally a Hmong refugee, she uses her own experiences to help immigrants get established in the neighborhood. Among other accomplishments, Lor has been honored with the Mayor's New Faces in Green Bay Award for her efforts in promoting cultural diversity. She attributes her success to the Resource Center: "I have learned so much working here."

The center seemed to be helping change the face of the area. Van den Heuval has lived in the Broadway area for 20 years.

"There has definitely been a change for the better," she says. "You see people not just helping each other, but socializing, too. That used to be a taboo. With all the crime, locals used to lock their doors and not talk to anyone." She credits a lot of the change to the Family Resource Center. "With the preventive programs we offer, we are able to reduce the stress factors that lead to crime and social conflicts."

(The Family Resource Center is located in Fort Howard Elementary School at 520 Dousman St. in Green Bay and can be reached by phone 920-448-2256, fax 920-448-7328, or e-mail [email protected].)

Related articles:
 • 'Every human life is a sign of God's love, a trace of his glory'
 • St. Vincent de Paul: The quiet ministry
 • Human and earth health linked
 • Helping, respect, love walk hand in hand
 • 'Because someone has to say it'
 • In search of a good death

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