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CLUES reaches into Greater Minnesota

This is the second of two stories, looking at how workshops by CLUES is reaching out to those of diverse backgrounds.

Read the first part here: Finding the right path: CLUES helps local residents find their way to better life through workshops


Although there’s a significant minority population in Austin, there is still a need for resources like CLUES in Greater Minnesota.

Carla Kohler, associate director of community health and wealth initiatives for CLUES, said that many people have been concerned with health care and having equitable access to different resources that would help them in housing, employment and even with physical health.

“There is a disparity within communities of color who have health issues,” Kohler said. “One of the things that CLUES looked to do was provide these virtual workshops using virtual technologies to meet with them and being able to bring those community voices to us. It’s very empowering to help others attain their highest level of health.”

While challenges of unemployment are president in the Latino community, the greatest barrier to economic stability for families is underemployment. According to Minnesota Compass, the proportion of working Latino adults in the state is slightly lower than all racial and ethnic groups.

When looking at median income, economic disparities were also present. The median family income for households headed by Latinos is $43,380, compared to all Minnesotans at $63,488 and white (non-Hispanic) populations at $66,979.40.

Essentially, many members of the Latino community are often working more than one low-waged job to meet basic needs for themselves and their families, Kohler said.

Furthering CLUES’ outreach into Greater Minnesota was something that many minority communities in rural parts of the state said was essential, as it’s possible many could experience isolation and face a more difficult time finding resources that could help them.

While not the solution to everything, the workshops helped connect the community in Austin to experts in the Twin Cities, and maybe find a friend or two nearby.

Jose Rivera, career development navigator and community liaison for Austin’s CLUES, believed that although there were still people who came to CLUES from the surrounding area, there was still a need to keep moving forward in establishing stronger ties within the towns they serve.

“There are not many places like CLUES,” Rivera said. “We want our community to be united and stronger together. Whether it’s looking for a job, or buying a house. We want people to tell others and say ‘Hey, CLUES helped me with that,” and it feels really good.”

Jose Rivera, career development navigator and community liaison for Austin’s CLUES

One of the future goals CLUES hopes to achieve is addressing community mental health and providing avenues where individuals can find the necessary materials and health care providers who can address those concerns. Whether it was to address depression or insomnia, CLUES continues its reach into the region and is seeing positive results.

“The workshops were definitely a way for us to be intentionally delivering services to communities in Greater Minnesota beyond the Twin Cities,” Kohler said. “We’re looking to reduce the isolation that people could experience outside of the Twin Cities. They can create bonds and relationships by creating social opportunities to increase health and wellness. It’s been a really great result of these virtual workshops.”

Having an organization like CLUES providing services to those in the rural parts of the state was crucial in ensuring that people who are looking to better their lives and improve their situation was a major part of what the nonprofit does to spread to different regions.

“These communities have been more welcoming and supporting individuals in their goals to achieve their American Dream,” Kohler said. “From helping them find employment, or even just as simple as improving their nutrition and wellness, helps them feel more connected to others in the community rather than going through this alone. It’s been really great to see.”

A lifeline

Not only does CLUES work directly with Riverland Community College, but also with Austin Public Schools and Pacelli Catholic Schools to connect students with volunteer opportunities to help fulfill the community service requirement for The Hormel Foundation Austin Assurance Scholarship Program.

Essentially, CLUES not only helps the people who take the workshops and are searching for jobs, but it also connects community members to volunteer opportunities that may help fulfill requirements for a program.

That was the case for Riverland Community College student Hezouwe Para, 30, who immigrated to the United States from Togo, West Africa about three years ago.

Studying for a degree in human services, Para needed to fulfill a requirement for his major by volunteering with a community organization for a set number of hours. This was an opportunity for Para to learn more about what it meant to work with different community members, and his own personal story prompted him to seek every chance available to him in order to improve his life.

“All my life, I grew up surrounded by domestic violence,” he shared. His mother was abused constantly and eventually died in 2014. Para has since tried to make it his life’s goal to protect others from domestic violence. “This is a part of my life, and I want to be happy helping others escape domestic violence. All my life, I felt really bad. I want to help others.”

Despite having to juggle college courses along with his full-time job at Hormel Foods, Para willingly takes on the load in order to provide for his family. Since hearing about CLUES from Miguel Garate, multicultural advisor at Riverland, the aspiring social worker decided to sign up to volunteer with the organization.

About a week into his volunteer commitments, Para finds that the resources provided through CLUES was valuable and beneficial to those who need access to resources that otherwise may not have been readily known.

“This is a good place,” he said. “I hope to continue working here. I’m open to anything. CLUES is a lifeline to people.”