Yankton residents will soon see colorful, multi-language signs displayed at businesses in town welcoming visitors in 18 different languages.
The sign is sponsored by new Yankton community group Connecting Cultures.
“We decided we wanted to have a welcome sign somewhere in the community or around town, welcoming people to Yankton in different Languages,” said Cassandra Haas of Leadership Yankton. “We want to get (signs) around Yankton and promote that Yankton is a diverse place and we want to welcome everybody, no matter what culture they are from.”
The languages on the welcome sign are: Hawaiian (aloha), German (wilkommen), Italian (Benvenuto), Czech (vitejte), Swahili (Karibu), Polish (witamy), Spanish (bienvenidos), English (welcome), Welsh (croeso), Tagalog (maligayang), Portuguese (bem-vindo), Vietnamese (hoan njhênh), Danish (velkommen), Japanese (yōkoso), Hindi (namaste), Lakota Sioux (ta yá yáhi), French (Bienvenue) and Hebrew (shalom).
This first version of the sign is a window cling and is being offered free of charge to local businesses and residents. It intentionally combines heritage languages that go back to the founding of this community, to newer languages that show that the community is continuing to evolve, said Connecting Cultures member Daniel Johnikin.
“Which is a good thing,” he said. “I think sometimes we miss how good of a thing it is to have this kind of an evolution within our lives.”
The idea for Connecting Cultures came about in a meeting of the Yankton Area Literacy Council (YALC), according to YALC board member Veronica Trezona.
“Yankton High School (YHS) Spanish Teacher Sarah Brandt was (also) hired as the English learner specialist,” Trezona recalled. “She said, ‘We need some way to get across to the parents of incoming children what is expected of them, and get everybody involved.’”
The group reached out to Rita Nelson, workforce development coordinator for Yankton Area Progressive Growth, who is involved with several organizations including the Southeast South Dakota Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) and Cornerstones Career Learning Center.
“What we initially did was figure out what we wanted to accomplish and who should be invited to a meeting,” Nelson said. “In talking about it, we realized that our community is growing and we wanted to figure out ways to reduce barriers for people that are new to the community to navigate (it), whether it’s through the school system or through employment, and help them feel welcome and make Yankton whole.”
The first meeting was a little over a year ago. Invitees included the Yankton School District, Mount Marty College and members of many local non-profit groups and organizations.
Last October, participants in the Yankton Chamber of Commerce’s annual Leadership Yankton class were inspired to join Connecting Cultures and dedicate their final projects to welcoming newcomers to Yankton from across a broad spectrum.
“Our project was going to be part of Connecting Cultures that was newly forming,” said Haas. “There were about 20-25 of us that wanted to join and help out.”
The infusion of new people caused Connecting Cultures to double in size. Now it is organized into three committees: a welcome committee that worked on the sign, an events committee and a committee that is working on a community resource guide for new residents.
Johnikin said that Connecting Cultures was already a great help because the group had developed inroads into the community that saved him a lot of work when he began organizing events for Discovery Church.
“I don’t know that the community is aware that they are doing as much as they do to try to make this a cohesive community, bringing us all together,” he said.
Connecting Cultures member Adriana De Anda, originally of Mexico City, has lived in Yankton since 2012 and has been studying English since then.
“I am a mother and I have to work, and I think this program is very good for the community because a lot of people stay home and they don’t have much participation in the community,” De Anda said. “I think it’s an opportunity to invite (people) of different cultures who are working or taking care of their kids, and don’t have time to go to school (and) don’t speak English.”
Nelson shared a comment from another member of Connecting Cultures, Jose Alonso.
“For me the welcome sign is inviting to many people with different cultural background or just to anyone who can connect with another language,” Alonso said. “I grew up in Yankton and consider the city to be a family-based city. What I mean by that is, you can walk down the street and have a complete stranger or a friend say hello to you with a smile on their face. This sign, to me, is a branch to continue that family oriented feel with new people who come to our community.”
“I thought this was a beautiful comment about our community as well,” Nelson said.
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