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Mankato Minnesota’s YWCA program helps new immigrant families

While loneliness is commonly experienced by a new immigrant, Hengli Cruz has felt quite the opposite for the past couple of years. YWCA Mankato’s New American Families program ensures it.

“The program was created in 2006 to address the need in Mankato to help immigrant and refugee families that are isolated and not feeling like they’re part of the community because they’re new to it,” said Program Manager Kristina Spidahl.

Cruz has been in the program now for two years. The 28-year-old immigrated from Honduras to St. Peter four years ago. When she was registering her eldest daughter for school, she made a new friend that introduced her to the program.

“She knew I had a baby and told me about a program that helped families with children under age five get ready for school,” Cruz said. “She told me the program was in Spanish.”

The specific curriculum she was referring to is offered through Parents as Teachers and is taught by Angie Funes, the parent educator for Latinx families.

As a child of immigrant parents from Mexico herself, she witnessed firsthand the challenge that comes with immigrating to a new country and not knowing the primary language.

“Due to the language barrier, my parents weren’t aware of the resources available to us,” Funes said.

Her role with the program ensures other families are allowed to learn about such resources regardless of the language they understand.

The program has helped two of Cruz’s children prepare to enter the American school system and has provided them with resources for successful childhood development. The program also has helped Cruz remain motivated and accountable as a parent.

“They have helped me reach goals like taking English classes at the community center and putting my oldest daughter in after-school programs that have helped our family’s well-being,” she said. “I always tell new families immigrating here about this program because it helps our children and the family as a whole by connecting us to other resources that support us.”

The team is serving Latinx, Somali, and some East African communities. Spidahl’s passion for helping children stems from her belief that they are the future.

“Parents need support so they can be the best educators and parents for their children, and those children are the future of the Mankato community and the greater Mankato area,” she said. “That’s the most important thing because they’ll be our leaders someday.”

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