After coming together in 2001, the Community Diversity Group has held a variety of events aimed at celebrating diversity within the area. Now, it’s looking toward its first Multicultural Unity Fair, which will be held next month.
The group first formed as “a need in the community arose among many of the local employers, not just in diversifying their workplace, but also retaining those individuals who made their workplace more diverse,” founding member Carol Eicher said. The group, which would not become an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit until 2003, initially offered resource guides with diversity calendars, international community listings, spiritual affiliations and listings for minority-owned and -operated businesses in the community, as well as public training sessions and other events to enhance local businesses’ customer service.
While the initial resources helped employers hire individuals from diverse backgrounds and retain a diverse workforce, the resulting benefits extended to new individuals moving into the community, potential individuals looking to move to the area for work and the community as a whole, as businesses made diverse individuals feel more comfortable and welcomed.
In 2014, the group hosted its first Community Diversity Conference, which it held a second time in 2017, with another planned for June 2019.
“The purpose of (the conference), of course, is to help create more opportunities for individuals to understand what diversity means, how it enhances the community and broadens everyone’s horizons,” Eicher said.
However, after several years of existence, the group found a reason to expand its mission and services.
“We wanted to make our mission more inclusive and more expansive, because we saw that there was a need, especially in our community, to have people come together, have real conversation, get to know one another and celebrate the diversity we have in our community,” said member Sharon Barney, a local immigration attorney. “Our mission now is to bring diverse people together (and) to cultivate inclusive, engaged communities.”
One of the new activities that came about as part of this mission were Cultural Conversations events. Started last year, the events bring people together in a social environment to discuss relevant issues.
“Often, local diversity initiatives and activities focus on the campus or the Borough community through a specific organization. We thought it was important to bridge the gap between town and gown and have people come together purely for social reasons. We’ve found (these events) to be very successful and have had a lot of participation,” Barney said. “Our first Cultural Conversations event focused on Muslim community members and our most recent Cultural Conversations focused on immigrant entrepreneurs in the community, so it runs the gamete of the different diverse members that we have.”
The Community Diversity Group is led by approximately 25 key individuals, all volunteers that represent the community, local businesses, government, the university, school systems, health care and other organizations.
One of the group’s most recent endeavors is an event that’s the first of its kind in Centre County. The Multicultural Unity Fair, Sept. 22, noon-4 p.m. is a day of music, dance, children’s activities, international foods and storytelling, co-sponsored by the State College Borough.
“This idea has been floated repeatedly over the years,” Barney said. “Especially with the growing international and immigrant populations that we’re seeing, it just became more and more clear that we should have an event that celebrates our multicultural community. Frankly it’s a time when some people just don’t feel comfortable even existing (here). ... We wanted to provide an opportunity to show everyone that we care about our community members and we celebrate and acknowledge our diversity.”
In addition to working with State College, the Community Diversity Group is also working with several other organizations in the area, including Centre County Youth Service Bureau, Global Connections and Penn State Student Group. The plan is to host the fair every two years, each time offering attendees a chance to see the diversity that exists in the community and how it’s beneficial to converse with and learn from one another in a fun way.
Whether it’s putting together the new fair, hosting the Community Diversity Conference or leading a Cultural Conversations event, Eicher and Barney both tout the rewarding experience that comes from being involved with the Community Diversity Group.
“To see ... individuals who may be new to the community, learning more about it, learning how warm and passionate our community is, how welcoming, how much we work together to make our community the best that it possibly can be ... that’s a wonderful experience,” Eicher said.
“As a woman of color myself, being able to say to others who are like me that you are not alone, you are welcome and there’s a supportive environment in the community that wants to meet you and support you, is wonderful,” Barney said.
To get involved with the Community Diversity Group, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and stay tuned to the group’s website and Facebook page for updates on the upcoming Multicultural Unity Fair.