Archived Story

Welcome Center makes strides toward support goal

Published 9:41am Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Welcome Center has been a little busy over the past few months.

From helping residents in poverty get phones to hosting voter registration events, Welcome Center staff are working to make the group more of an advocate for people in Austin.

“Progress is going really well,” Jake Vela, executive director said.

The Welcome Center served as a host to FreePhoneMN, a group which last month gave out more than 160 basic cell phones to local residents on government programs or living at lower than 135 percent of the U.S. poverty level, in what Vela called a “huge success.”

“It could have been more,” Vela said. “It’s not about how many phones given, it’s the actual process that takes time.”

Each participant had to go through a 10-15 minute registration where volunteers went through the rules and regulations of having a Free PhoneMN wireless phone. Only four or five people were turned down, and several residents had to be turned away after the day-long drive, leading Welcome Center staff to invite FreePhoneMN back to Austin on Nov. 2.

“A lot of people had been disappointed that they didn’t get a phone after waiting all day,” Vela said. “We knew that we needed to bring them back.”

The Welcome Center will host a free voter registration clinic from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday to help get residents ready to vote. In addition, Welcome Center staff and volunteers will take part in a forum sponsored by Advocates for Human Rights to determine how welcoming Austin is to new residents.

“We’re going to talk about what welcome means to you,” Vela said.

The forum is a part of community conversations held throughout the state for the “Blueprint to Welcome” project, where Advocates for Human Rights members will look at ways Minnesota welcomes residents of all types, from new immigrants to college students to people who have lived in town their whole life. The project will evaluate residents’ responses and experiences against international human rights standards as well. Vela is looking forward to hearing the discussion to take back any lessons for the Welcome Center to make life in Austin more welcoming.

“It’s going to be very interesting,” Vela said.

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