Goal is to help all, whether from Brookings or elsewhere in world
BROOKINGS – The Brookings Multicultural Center wants everyone to come visit them – whether you were born elsewhere or lived here all your life.
The idea is to remove barriers for those who come from other countries to live in Brookings and educate those who live here about their new neighbors, said Heidi Briseno and Jungsook Kim. Both are members of the center’s board, and Kim is the director of the center.
For more information, call Kim at 695-7530. They have a Facebook page and are on Instagram, too.
To show what is offered, the center is having a come-and-go open house from 5-7 p.m. Friday at 506 Third Ave.
A potluck will be served, so folks can bring a side dish and some international people will bring cultural dishes, Kim said.
Speakers will be Brookings Deputy Mayor Patty Bacon and City Manager Paul Briseno, Heidi’s husband.
Board members plan to attend, as do some of the people who come when the center is open Tuesday evenings and Friday mornings, Heidi Briseno said.
A slideshow will give a welcome in the languages of different countries. Some attendees will wear traditional dress, Kim said.
A woman from India will demonstrate dancing, and there will be music from other countries, as well, Kim said.
Briseno said they are excited for everyone to come ask questions and see what the new center offers to all.
Kim moved to Brookings more than 20 years ago for her husband’s studies.
“It was 1995 winter – it was horrible,” she said. Their car wouldn’t start in the frigid weather, so they couldn’t go to school, Kim said. They eventually got it to work, but it would have been much easier if they had known where to go for help, she said.
Many international students and their families face the same problem, Kim and Briseno said.
More than 30 countries are represented in Brookings’ population, “especially in SDSU,” Kim said. Most come from warmer climates and may not know which clothes to wear for the harsh winters or where to find them.
Where to buy food they are familiar with or how to cook with the available selections could be a problem, too. Understanding health services and how to seek them out when illness strikes is important, as well.
Kim met Winnie Baker, who made the international community her calling. Baker’s husband was with the Spanish department at South Dakota State University, and Baker herself taught English as a Second Language for years before her death in 2016.
When the Bakers traveled to Mexico, Winnie Baker “was so lonely,” Kim said. That experience taught Baker what it was like for international families at SDSU, so Baker invited them to her home.
Baker became “like family,” working with the international women whose husbands were going to school, Kim said.
The idea for the Brookings Multicultural Center grew out of the experiences of Kim, Baker and others.
Becoming a reality
It started with the Women’s Friendship Group, which met once a week, Briseno said.
“We all got together and helped Kim make the dream come true,” Briseno said.
American friends have many places to go and talk about what they’re going through, but international students don’t, Kim said. She wanted the students to have that place they could relax and find fun things to do or talk about their experiences and get help.
The Brookings Multicultural Center opened the end of April and is open from 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to noon Friday.
They’ve had a good turnout, Briseno said, and those that have been coming have taken the center to heart.
“(They say), ‘I’m waiting for Friday morning. I’m waiting for Tuesday. I’m so happy,’” Kim reported, adding “I want it to be home.”
They have potlucks and had planned campouts this summer, sometimes interrupted by the rainy weather. They host speakers once a month, usually on the first Tuesday. The center helps people with conversational English and guides them to ESL classes.
A couple of months ago, the center hosted an open house for volunteers to see what they would like the center to feature. Briseno said one thing that came up was opening communication with police officers on things like what is the procedure if you get pulled over.
Kim’s goal is to get the international community more involved, especially in government. When she was new to town, she had no idea who the city mayor was.
“They just study and graduate and leave,” Kim said. “I want to get them more involved in the Brookings city.”
Present and future
Right now, Kim and Marilyn Hildreth run the non-profit center, which is located in the building where the Veritas Church meets. There’s no affiliation between the center and the church; “they allow us to use the facility,” Briseno said.
They have a day care but need more help with the childcare and more volunteers in general, she said. They’d be willing to come talk to other organizations about what the Brookings Multicultural Center is. She’s planning outings and tours of other entities in the community.
A future goal is to get a bigger facility, Briseno added.
She wants the Multicultural Center to grow and become a resource for everyone in the community, even longtime residents who may want to learn more about another country or culture.
“We’d love to have more local Brookings people stop by,” Briseno said.
“We have goals,” she added. “Right now, to get the word out what goes on here and to get people involved, and it seems to be working pretty well.”