Leadership group’s projects are meant to bring people together

Austin residents are creating projects to include more people in the community.

A handful of projects came out of the Blandin Foundation’s Leadership for Ethnically Diverse Communities program, which wrapped up Thursday. Community leaders and citizens — which includes Daily Herald editorial staff — are planning opportunities for more relationships between Austin’s communities of color, new residents and longtime residents.

“Intentionally creating relationships is what this program is about,” said Julie Steiff, senior trainer and consultant for the Blandin Foundation.

Almost 50 people participated in the LEDC program, where they learned about intentionally including people from diverse backgrounds and becoming aware about cultural and interpersonal differences. At the program’s last meeting Thursday morning, more than 100 people gathered to discuss how best to make Austin more inclusive.

The group included guests of LEDC participants and Blandin program alumni. Eight projects emerged from the discussions, which included a welcoming service for new residents, a community festival, monthly activities, an outreach group to connect local media with communities of color, and a community aquaponics farm which could grow food for local and food manufacturing use.

“I didn’t know we had so many leaders, especially (from communities of color),” said Watsana Thiravong. Thiravong was a LEDC participant and loved the experience. She’s interested in the aquaponics farm project and hopes it gets off the ground to give the community more renewable resources.

“It’s a great opportunity for Austin,” she said.

Many LEDC participants saw the program as a great opportunity as well. Hy-Vee General Manager Todd Hepler said he met many new people who he used to see come in the store for years but never talked to. Now he makes conversation and responds to their requests for different goods, which he said recently included adding 50 pound bags of rice to the store inventory.

“I felt that now I’ve made more relationships in our community that I wouldn’t have been able to make otherwise,” he said.

The projects, which are similar in structure to the Vision 2020 projects currently under way, will take some time to create and implement. Yet the projects are not as important as the volunteers who participate, according to Blandin staff and local residents. The projects are a means for people to come together, and for people who otherwise wouldn’t know how to get involved to find ways to contribute and make bonds within the community.

“It’s intentional, the way it’s written,” said Ricky Riley, LEDC participant. “It allows us to be more caring as a community. It’s a great program.”

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