This article is from the Spring 2007 edition of the Extension Connection newsletter.
Residents of Perry have found a way to connect to their new Latino neighbors — go to Mexico. Iowa State University Extension became their guide, helping design and carry out an education-packed itinerary.
In March 2006, a group of 22 influential citizens left Iowa for Michoacán, Mexico, on an eight-day trip to the hometown of many new residents of Perry. The group was diverse, ranging from the mayor of Perry to the superintendent of Tyson Foods to three teens.
Participants felt this trip was needed to help the community begin to understand these new neighbors. “How can we respect what we don’t know?” asked Steve Parnell, a Perry businessperson who traveled with the group. “It’s our job to understand where our new neighbors come from.”
This trip was the response to a growing need in Perry: connecting local residents to Latino newcomers, who today make up more than 26 percent of the town’s population. ISU Extension, along with Perry LINK, worked extensively with Perry’s Latino residents and community groups to design a seminar that would allow a variety of Perry leaders to experience and learn about one immigrant-sending country firsthand. Extension then helped develop educational materials, an itinerary and outcome assessment tools.
“Extension’s role in the Michoacán trip was to create a top-notch learning experience for community members,” said Beth Fleming, ISU Extension family life specialist. “We provided educational resources and helped develop multimedia presentations to share the experience with others.”
Participants were able to interact with local residents, including a spiritual healer, government and police officials, and teachers and students.
One year after the trip to Mexico, Perry residents say the positive effects of the experience are continuing to help their community. Mary Hillman, director of Perry’s after school program, PACES, said, “I started asking more questions of my Latino parents, and when I told them of the trip, they just opened up! Wow! This really opened doors to truly connecting with families.”