Respect Life Month
Changing the face of one Green Bay neighborhood
Resource Center relies on everyone's input to flourish
By Rebecca Weiss
'Renewing for the 21st Century:
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
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
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
"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].)
'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