In September 2020, Goodwill partnered with the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee and Welcoming America on a multi-day Welcoming Week celebration of diversity and inclusion. The event brought together the multi-cultural population of more than 100 employees at the James O. Wright (JOW) Center for Work & Training on Milwaukee’s northwest side.
Welcoming Week activities focused on bringing employees together across lines of difference, educating on the importance of building inclusive communities welcoming of everyone to achieve collective prosperity, and creating an inclusive workplace where dignity, respect and equity are true norms.
Welcoming Week is a national celebration of the growing movement of communities that fully embrace new Americans and their contributions. “Goodwill’s support of immigrant populations and all people seeking economic self-sufficiency has remained our focus thanks to our founder, Rev. Edgar J. Helms,” said Jackie Hallberg, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin. “Celebrating Welcoming Week in partnership with the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee will help foster workplace inclusion among our diverse employee population at a critical time in our community and in our nation’s history.”
The 2020 Welcoming Week theme “Creating Home Together” provided an opportunity to bring employees together to celebrate aspects of their cultural identity and traditions. To help participants share their story, a variety of bridge-building activities were incorporated throughout the week. Employees participated in an interactive mapping activity, where they used push pin flags to self-identify where they were born, have lived, or where their parents and/or family members are from to provide a dynamic visual of the diversity at Goodwill. In fact, JOW employees or their parents are connected to dozens of countries across five continents!
Employees were also invited to a catered lunch twice during the week where they were able to sample an assortment of international cuisines from employees’ various cultures.
Larry, a Goodwill Laundry employee (pictured above) shared his appreciation of the event geared at making everyone feel at home stating, “What I love about working at Goodwill is that we all get along with each other and we treat each other with respect. We care about our community; we help each other out.”
Other employees shared that they enjoy seeing the cultural diversity at Goodwill. “I’ve never been in a place where I’ve met so many different nationalities,” said Goodwill Laundry employee Cynthia (pictured above.)
In preparation for Welcoming Week, voluntary surveys were distributed to JOW’s diverse population of employees to include them in event planning and ensure activities were representative of their culture. Surveys were translated into multiple languages such as Burmese, Hmong, Somalia, and Spanish and focused on collecting information on culture, traditions, and cuisine from employee home states or countries. More than 80 surveys were completed and returned confidentially. Additionally, the surveys also provided a great opportunity for Goodwill’s Community Access Foundation Track (CAFT) group to be involved. CAFT is an employment training program for individuals with disabilities that offers experiential learning in the community with a focus on skill building through instruction and hands-on skills practice. With the CAFT program just entering an administrative curriculum at the start of Welcoming Week, program participants were able to learn data interpretation skills that they could put into practice right away by entering the survey results into a spreadsheet. They also learned about confidentiality, letter recognition, and practiced typing skills. The CAFT program participant’s favorite aspect of this hands-on learning experience was observing the different languages that Goodwill employees speak, which gave them knowledge and respect for people with varied backgrounds.
CAFT participant David (pictured above) recalls of his experience, “I loved the project. I learned to respect other people, like where they came from, the kind of music they listen to, and the kind of food they like.”
Lastly, in addition to partnering with the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee, Goodwill worked with the other local community partners involved such as Neighborhood House of Milwaukee’s International Learning Program and the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (AAPI) to obtain and share community resources with JOW’s immigrant, refugee and newcomer employees.
To learn more about our community partners, the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee and Welcoming Week, visit ymcamke.org/welcoming-week/.