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Cisneros_Qualitative Report

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Cisneros_Qualitative Report

  1. 1. New Americans in Northwest Arkansas: A Qualitative Community Assessment
  2. 2. By Dr. Donna Davis, Zessna Garcia-Rios, Emily Hackerson, Madeline Holland Researchers: Jennifer Aguirre, Jessica Boyd, Donna Davis, Zessna Garcia-Rios, Emily Hackerson, Jacob Perry April 2016 Cisneros Center for New Americans 1805 7th St NW Washinton, DC 20001 Northwest Arkansas Office 614 E Emma Ave, Suite 234 Springdale, AR 72764 Suggested citation: Davis, Donna, Zessna Garcia-Rios, Emily Hackerson, and Madeline Holland. 2016. New Americans in Northwest Arkansas: A Qualitative Community Assessment. Sprindgale, AR: Cisneros Center for New Americans.
  3. 3. Contents Executive Summary Introduction Background Aims of the research 1. New American Community Community Forums Demographics Methods Findings Community Feedback Sessions Demographics Methods Findings 2. Service Organizations Organizational Needs Assessment Demographics Methods Findings 3. Regional Leadership Leadership Forums Demographics Methods Findings Conclusion Contents 4 6 6 7 8 8 8 8 9 10 10 10 11 13 13 13 13 13 15 15 15 15 16 18
  4. 4. Executive Summary The Cisneros Center for New Americans is a 501(c)(3) working in Northwest Arkansas to facilitate collaborative and comprehensive approaches to immigrant integration. Northwest Arkansas’ foreign-born population has grown tremendously in the last decades, increasing from 1.9% of the total population in 1990 to 11.25% of the population in 2014. Northwest Arkansas is one of the nation’s “emerging immigrant gateways,” attracting large numbers of New Americans despite little history of immigration. From 2014 - 2016, the Cisneros Center has conducted extensive qualitative research on the experiences of New Americans in Northwest Arkansas, as well as gathered perspectives from regional leaders and service-providers. The aim of this qualitative research has been to identify which aspects of life in Northwest Arkansas are most amenable to New American residents and which aspects present the greatest challenges. Our research revealed that a large majority of New Americans feel at home in Northwest Arkansas and appreciate especially the ample work opportunities, the strong education system, and the tranquility and safety of the area. Among those surveyed, high-school-aged residents were more likely to say they did not “feel welcome in Northwest Arkansas.” Our research also demonstrated that the New American population in Northwest Arkansas is not monolithic, and different ethnic communities experience distinct barriers to full integration in civic, social, and economic life. However, common challenges that our respondents identified include: prohibitive costs of services and activities; inability to access needed services because of a lack of translated materials and interpretation, complex processes of registration for services, and uncertainty about how to access them. Respondents recommended the expansion of affordable services including: adult educational programming, after-school programs for youth, childcare options, college preparation, public transportation, and community orientation programs. The challenges New Americans faced were echoed by the challenges organizations identified in fulfilling their missions. Organizations cited the need for increased capacity to offer more translation, interpretation, and community outreach to immigrant populations. Organizations also noted a desire for a more developed workforce and the need for staff that is more 4
  5. 5. representative of the populations they serve. Regional leadership observed a need for more leadership training for diverse populations, expanded public transportation, increased financial assistance for education, and more effective communication about services in Northwest Arkansas. Common goals across the three surveyed groups include greater cross-sector and cross-cultural communication, and greater opportunities for New Americans to develop skills and leadership needed for the local workforce. Limited resources posed a challenges for New Americans and for organizations. New Americans pointed to prohibitive costs of activities and services, while organizations needed greater capacity to offer better translation, interpretation, and expanded programming. NOTE: Throughout the report, we will use the term “New American” to refer to all foreign-born individuals regardless of immigration status. 5
  6. 6. Introduction Background There are presently more New Americans than at any time in the United States’ history, and many are settling in communities with little history of immigration. While this growth represents an enormous opportunity for our country and for many communities being revitalized by new populations, it also presents challenges; in communities unused to adapting to demographic shift, New Americans can face barriers that lead to lower levels of education, lower wages, and higher levels of poverty than their native- born counterparts, as well as their foreign-born counterparts in other parts of the country. How communities learn to respond to their changing populations is a question of national relevance and significance as the social, economic, and civic life of the country will be shaped by these responses. 80% of the country’s population growth in the next 40 years is projected to be driven by immigrants and their children, as well as much of our country’s workforce growth. Much of the change will be experienced most acutely in “emerging gateways,” those regions that have experienced massive growth in their immigrant populations in the last 40 years. The Cisneros Center for New Americans opened its doors in Northwest Arkansas in August of 2014. Northwest Arkansas is among these “emerging gateways”; the region’s immigrant population grew by 850% in the last 20 years. Northwest Arkansas can be seen as a case study in community adaptation to demographic shift. Northwest Arkansas can be seen as a case study in community adaptation to demographic shift. The Cisneros Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) whose mission is to ensure that all Americans, whether native-born or adopted by our nation, have the opportunity to achieve their American Dream. The primary focus of the Cisneros Center is immigrant integration, the dynamic, two-way process by which immigrants and migrants are welcomed into the social, political, and economic mainstream of a new location while simultaneously offering novel contributions that in turn alter the broader community. The following research contributes to the Center’s work to facilitate a more 6
  7. 7. collaborative and comprehensive region-wide approach to immigrant integration. All of the research in the following study was conducted by staff members of the Cisneros Center for New Americans. Much of the research was conducted within the Cisneros Center’s own programming, while other portions of theresearch were conducted as part of the Center’s role in the EngageNWA Immigrants from Abroad Coalition, a community coalition which brings together individuals across sectors and demographics to work collaboratively on immigrant integration in Northwest Arkansas. The Cisneros Center serves as co-chair of the EngageNWA Immigrants from Abroad coalition. Aims of the Research A significant portion of the Cisneros Center’s work in its first two years of operation in Northwest Arkansas has been to engage a diverse array of stakeholders in Northwest Arkansas, including New American residents, community leaders and service organization professionals. A critical goal of this engagement has been to gather diverse stakeholders’ perspectives on which areas of life in Northwest Arkansas are most amenable to New Americans, and which aspects of life create the greatest challenges. This research contributes to a larger body of findings of life in an “emerging immigrant gateway” in the 21st century, of which Northwest Arkansas is a prime example. Quantitative data drawn from 2014 Census responses reveals that the foreign-born population in each of the four major cities in Northwest Arkansas, Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, and Bentonville, have disparate outcomes from native-born residents across metrics including: educational attainment, wages for full-time employees, and poverty rates. Across the Northwest Arkansas region, foreign- born residents are nearly five times as likely to not have a high school diploma; foreign-born residents are more likely to be concentrated in low-wage, manual-labor jobs; foreign-born residents of all family compositions are more likely to be living in poverty. To complement the quantitative data available about the outcomes of foreign-born residents in the region, the Cisneros Center undertook qualitative research. Year one research was conducted primarily in small group settings and community forums, while in year two, research was combined with community feedback sessions on a digital tool designed for resource access. 7
  8. 8. 1. New American Community conducted in order to hear from community members about strengths and areas of growth of community services, and to gather ideas for what can be done to better address community needs. i. Demographics In total, 101 immigrant or migrant residents of Northwest Arkansas were interviewed during these forums about their experience in Northwest Arkansas. Groups interviewed included Asian, Latino, and Pacific Islander. Specific nationalities included: Hmong, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican, Salvadoran, Indian, and Marshallese respondents. Of 101 respondents, 52 were high school students, while the other 49 were working-age adults. ii. Methods Six one-hour community forums were conducted in February and March of 2015. Each forum targeted a different diverse community in Northwest Arkansas, and were co-facilitated by the Cisneros Center and a member of the respective community. Forums were conducted in familiar settings, in the native language of the respondents, and notes were taken to record information. Over the course of two years, the Cisneros Center has actively engaged over 300 New Americans in conversation about immigrant life in Northwest Arkansas. The following findings reflect the wide range of experiences for these individuals and families, while also highlighting some of the shared successes and struggles faced while building a new life in their communities. All of these conversations took place in small-group settings, with an aim of gaining a better understanding the experiences of our newest neighbors. Some common themes that arose from these conversations centered on the difficulties to integrating and accessing services arising from language barriers, a pronounced desire for more scholarship and higher education opportunities and a concerns of navigating healthcare and insurance systems. However, despite common struggles, an overwhelming majority of New Americans feel at home in Northwest Arkansas. Findings are presented below from the community forums and community feedback sessions. A. Community Forums Throughout 2014-2015, community forums were 8
  9. 9. The structure of the forums included introductions and icebreakers, followed by two facilitated conversations using a 1-2-4- all liberating structure. This type of meeting facilitation involves posing questions or topics, where first each individual thinks to themselves about their responses, then partners form and share their ideas with each other, pairs then share with other pairs and finally, the whole group comes together to flesh ideas out together. The first 1-2-4-all session asked the following two questions: -What specific services are you accessing in the community of Northwest Arkansas? -What are the strengths in service provision in Northwest Arkansas? The second 1-2-4-all session asked the following questions of respondents: -What is still needed or needs to be improved in service provision in Northwest Arkansas? -What can be done in the community and through EngageNWA (a community coalition) to better address your needs? iii. Findings The employment opportunities and educational programs for immigrant parents and their children were some of the most mentioned regional strengths. The most commonly mentioned areas of growth were cultural orientation for new arrivals and general accessibility and awareness of services. When identifying areas of strength in the Northwest Arkansas region, respondents said that there were ample work opportunities, especially in the fields of animal-processing, agriculture, and construction. Respondents also commented on the quality of programs for immigrant parents including ESL, GED, and citizenship classes and specific family engagement and new arrivals programs in local public schools. Some families were aware of free or low-cost social services, health insurance and healthcare options, as well as where to access legal services or financial services. When identifying areas of growth in service provision to immigrants in Northwest Arkansas, respondents identified many factors that prevented them from taking full advantage of existing services. Many respondents indicated the prohibitive costs of services ranging from health and dental care to recreational programs including sports, music, arts, etc., and of child-care options. Many respondents also said that language barriers prevented them from accessing services. Insufficient translations and interpreters or bilingual staff reduced respondent’s ability to understand and apply for services and programs. Many respondents said that prohibitively high costs and language barriers prevented them from accessing services. In addition to language barriers, respondents indicated that the process of registration for some services was prohibitively complex, and individuals had difficulty either completing the necessary paperwork or understanding the necessary steps to follow. Beyond this, many respondents said that they did not know how to find out about which services were available to them. Respondents identified areas in which existing services could be bolstered to better serve them. They cited a need for more training programs in technical or artisan careers, expanded immigration services to meet the growing population of those with legal complications concerning immigration, expanded child-care options which would allow parents to participate more in community life, more scholarship opportunities for higher education, and more and improved college-readiness programs for first- generation college students. 9
  10. 10. A recurring area of growth identified by respondents was in orientation programs for new arrivals on the following areas: state and federal laws, local culture and customs, processes for accessing services, and educational, health, and financial systems. A recurring area of growth identified by respondents was orientation programming for new arrivals. Marshallese respondents identified several barriers particular to the Marshallese community in Northwest Arkansas. These respondents said that accessing health services was difficult for Marshallese adults whose health insurance options were restricted. Respondents said that the driver’s license test was not offered in Marshallese, making it difficult for Marshallese residents to obtain their licenses. Marshallese community members also cited a need for increased public understanding of Marshallese culture. Marshallese community members cited a need for increased public understanding of Marshallese culture. Hmong respondents identified the need for increased mobile services, especially health, which are particularly needed by rural populations with limited transportation. Indian respondents said that they faced a lack of professional mobility in part because of visa requirements which limited the range of their work area. They also said they faced difficulty transferring skills and/or higher education degrees, leaving several skilled workers unable to apply their skills. Due to visa restrictions, many spouses of employed immigrants are unable to work, creating a barrier to their community participation. B. Community Feedback Sessions Now in its second year in Northwest Arkansas, the Cisneros Center staff is actively building on the first year model of small-group, facilitated discussions with members from the region’s New American communities. This research is an integral part of the Center’s ongoing efforts to listen to, record, and create awareness on both the challenges and opportunities immigrants and migrants navigate daily in Northwest Arkansas. i. Demographics Across all presentation formats, 150 first and second generation immigrants participated in Cisneros Center surveys and feedback sessions. At least 75 more were present at sessions but did not provide written feedback. An overwhelming majority of respondents identified as Hispanic/Latino,with countries of origin including: Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Honduras, Argentina and Venezuela. Other respondent nationalities included: India, China, Laos, Vietnam, Russia, Palestine, England and Bangladesh. ii. Methods Since August of 2015, the Cisneros Center has facilitated 27 group discussions with New Americans in Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville. This is an ongoing project, with an average of 5 feedback sessions conducted monthly. The structure of the sessions varies slightly depending on respondents and their context, outlined below. All sessions, regardless of structure, aim to better understand the immediate and long-term needs of New Americans in Northwest Arkansas, with emphasis on their ability to effectively access community and public services. 10
  11. 11. Family Literacy Programs - The Springdale Family Literacy Program (SFLP) and Rogers P.A.D.R.E.S program support Hispanic and immigrant educational needs in the region by providing parents with the literacy and language skills necessary to better engage with their children’s school and education. The programs also invite local nonprofits to speak with families about local resources. The Cisneros Center has conducted 17 feedback sessions with SFLP and P.A.D.R.E.S. The classes have ranged between 3 - 18 respondents, 89% of whom are Hispanic/Latina women. The feedback sessions are conducted in Spanish by two Cisneros Center staff members and last between 40 - 60 minutes depending on the size of the group. To encourage openness, facilitators start the discussion by sharing a personal story regarding immigrant integration in the region, as well as giving background on the work and mission of the Cisneros Center. The facilitators lead respondents through a series of ten questions on their experiences of living in Northwest Arkansas. Notes and question responses are handwritten by facilitators, as well as recorded on separate handouts by respondents. Adult English Language Learner Classrooms- The Cisneros Center has held six feedback sessions with adult English language classes at the Northwest Technical Institute (NTI) and Northwest Arkansas Community College (NWACC). The class sizes ranged between 10 - 30 respondents. The demographic makeup of class respondents was diverse, with adult students from Asia, Africa, Europe, Central and South America, though the majority of students self-identified as Hispanic/Latino. Feedback sessions are conducted in English to accommodate the range of languages spoken in the classes, though some discussions are conducted in Spanish and English if the majority of students are Spanish speakers. The feedback sessions follow the same format as the SFLP and P.A.D.R.E.S. discussions. Notes and question responses are handwritten by facilitators, as well as recorded on separate handouts by respondents. High School Students- Working with Rogers New Tech High School, the Cisneros Center has begun preliminary research with young adults, surveying 35 first and second generation Hispanic/Latino students over four sessions. These discussions primarily seek feedback on a digital resource guide the Cisneros Center is developing for New Americans and their families. However, students are also surveyed on experiences of accessing community services and sense of belonging in the region. This data contributes to the Center’s broader understanding of New American experience in Northwest Arkansas. High school discussion sessions are led by two Cisneros Center staff in English. The sessions are 30 minutes in length and conclude with a take-home survey (homework) of 18 questions. Survey responses are submitted online by students, with instructions to complete answers with input from their parents (parents are majority first generation Hispanics/Latinos) iii. Findings Family Literacy Programs and English Language Learner Classrooms- Findings from the adult feedback sessions focused on barriers respondents experienced when trying to access community services in Northwest Arkansas. Most frequently cited were difficulties regarding language, including: lack of translators or bilingual staff available to help respondents navigate the service; few to no official documents available in languages other than English; experiences of discrimination for not speaking English; and feeling unable to advocate for oneself or children due to language barriers. 11
  12. 12. Participant feedback frequently mentioned the need for more educational opportunities, including: information on how to validate professional licenses from their countries of origin; more ESL classes; how to advocate for children with special needs; and scholarship opportunities for college-bound children. Comments regarding health access were also amongst the highest-reported concerns, with emphasis on how to navigate medical insurance, including: understanding the terms of their coverage; how to get insurance; options available for medical care if you don’t have insurance; and assistance for paying off medical bills. Lack of adequate translation services/ options at medical facilities was one of the most commonly cited barriers to accessing services in the Northwest Arkansas region. Health care access was among the highest-reported concerns, with an emphasis on how to navigate medical insurance. The findings pointed largely to a lack of understanding of how to use a service, as opposed to difficulty locating or finding the service. Participants noted the difficulty of knowing all the necessary steps in completing a certain process, such as using their insurance, and not having the English language skills to advocate for themselves as they would like. Out of 112 survey respondents asked “Do you feel at home in Northwest Arkansas?” 90% responded affirmatively, 6% were unsure and 4% said they do not feel at home here. 10% of respondents wrote they have experienced some form of discrimination while accessing a service, primarily for not speaking English. Many more cited feeling welcome in this region, believing it to be a very safe region, with good schools and access to nature. High School Students- The Cisneros Center commenced research with first and second generation high school students at Rogers New Tech High in February of 2016, with plans to expand to other high schools across Northwest Arkansas. When asked what services they would like to see more of in Northwest Arkansas (for themselves and/or their families), students most frequently requested an increase in translation and interpretation services, specifically for accessing school and legal services, as well as for job seekers. Students’ desire for more interpretation services corresponds with our research finding that 84% of students interviewed have had to translate for a parent or family member at some point, often from as young as 5 years old. The majority of respondents said they “feel at home in Northwest Arkansas.” Other top service needs cited by students included: more scholarship and community service opportunities; more ways to share their Hispanic/Latino culture with Northwest Arkansas’ broader community; information on medical insurance; better explanations of the process behind using specific services and employment of more Spanish speakers. Students and parents seek more college scholarship opportunities. When asked “Do you feel welcome in Northwest Arkansas?” 63% of students said yes, 20% were unsure/mixed feelings and 17% said they do not feel welcome. For those citing mixed feelings or responding “no,” they mention having experienced racist comments or looks that make them acutely aware of “being a minority.” The majority of students responded to the question affirmatively, stating that Northwest Arkansas is where they have lived their whole lives and it’s the only home they know. 12
  13. 13. 2. Service Organizations In addition to understanding the perspectives of New Americans, the experiences, strengths, and needs of service providers provides another valuable lens through which to assess the state of immigrant integration in Northwest Arkansas. Findings from the year-long organizational needs assessment follow. Organizational Needs Assessment Throughout 2014 and 2015, the Cisneros Center met with many staff members and directors of service organizations in Northwest Arkansas to understand how the service ecosystem was faring in supporting and serving an increasingly diverse community. i. Demographics Over 100 relational meetings have been held throughout Northwest Arkansas with leaders from the corporate, nonprofit, political, small business, K-12 education, higher education, media, health, legal and recreation sectors. ii. Methods Since July of 2014, the Cisneros Center has conducting relational meetings with leaders of various organizations in Northwest Arkansas. The purpose of these meetings has been to build relationships in the community, learn about work being done, as well as to understand the organizational needs in Northwest Arkansas. The following findings are an overview of the most frequently identified needs expressed by organizations. iii. Findings The most frequently recurring needs mentioned in these relational meetings fall into five categories: Community Engagement, Funding, Inter-Organizational Collaboration, Organizational Support and Workforce Development. With regard to community engagement, organizations in Northwest Arkansas seek more effective engagement with the immigrant communities. In order for organizations to increase the reach and use of their services, there is a need for: document translation services, interpreters, best practices on immigrant engagement, an increased awareness of their services in the community, access to ethnic media, effective tools to reach the 13
  14. 14. immigrant community and to diversify their staff to better represent the immigrant community. In terms of funding, organizations in Northwest Arkansas have expressed a need for additional funding in order to fulfill their missions and meet the needs of their target communities. Organizations cited a need for additional funding in order to: expand programs, continue current programs, begin new programs, hire additional staff, gain additional capacity to research funding opportunities and gain additional knowledge on the grant-writing process. In terms of inter-organization collaboration, better communication and collaboration between organizations in Northwest Arkansas was an often-mentioned need. Without this, organizations inadvertently compete for volunteers, attendees, and money. Organizations need: additional capacity and time to pursue collaborative opportunities, opportunities and outlets to communicate, opportunities to collaborate on events, opportunities and incentives to establish partnerships and opportunity to participate in a collective impact model. Organizations expressed a need for interpreters, translators, volunteers, additional staff, trainings, and workshops. Another common need is organizational support. Leaders stated that In order to operate at maximum capacity and efficiency, organizations need staff and program supports. These supports directly enhance the organization’s ability to improve their services and to reach a broader audience. Specifically, organizations need: interpreters, volunteers, additional staff, trainings and workshops. Finally, there was a commonly expressed need for a more developed workforce. Organizations have expressed a need for a diverse and fully- trained workforce that is representative of the communities in Northwest Arkansas. Some specific needs mentioned are: a professional and academic pipeline for the immigrant community, a guide on career preparation for students and more ethnically diverse professionals in Northwest Arkansas 14
  15. 15. 3. Regional Leadership To get a holistic picture of the strengths and areas of growth in Northwest Arkansas, the Cisneros Center gathered information from established community leaders as well as New American residents. Northwest Arkansas has a robust network of accessible, committed and well-informed leaders that span the education, corporate, municipal, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors as executive directors, presidents, professionals and executives. A review of the findings from the forums conducted with Northwest Arkansas leadership is presented below. Leadership Forums In early 2015, the Cisneros Center conducted forums with community leaders who serve on EngageNWA’s Immigrants from Abroad coalition, an active demographically-representative group focused on welcoming and retaining diverse talent in NWA, including immigrants. These community leaders participated in these forums to give their assessment of where the community stands in welcoming and supporting immigrants, and to generate initiative ideas for the coalition to further improve Northwest Arkansas. All members of EngageNWA were invited to participate in the forums. i. Demographics In total, 19 community leaders of Northwest Arkansas, nearly half of the EngageNWA membership, actively participated in these forums. Of the 19, 12 were men and seven were women. In terms of race and ethnicity, the group was made up of eight white, five Hispanic, three Black, and three Indian Asian respondents. ii. Methods Five one-hour forums were conducted in February and March of 2015 with members of the EngageNWA Immigrants from Abroad coalition. This coalition is made up of community leaders across business, nonprofit, education and philanthropic sectors. Each forum was facilitated by Cisneros Center staff. Forums were conducted in familiar settings and notes were taken to record information. The purpose of these forums was to hear from community leaders about strengths and areas of growth of community services, and to gather ideas for what can be done to better address community needs. The structure of the forums included introductions and icebreakers, followed by two facilitated conversations using a 1-2-4- 15
  16. 16. all liberating structure and then finished with a whole group structured conversation. The 1-2-4- all meeting facilitation involves posing questions or topics, where first each individual thinks to themselves about their responses, then partners form and share their ideas with each other, pairs then share with other pairs and finally, the whole group comes together to flesh ideas out together. The whole group structure includes a summary presentation by the facilitators of the information gathered thus far, followed by a solicitation of more in-depth exploration of the ideas shared. The first 1-2-4-all session asked the following two questions: - In what ways are we successful in Northwest Arkansas in attracting and retaining immigrants from abroad? -In what ways are we best meeting the needs of immigrants from abroad? The Whole Group session had two parts. The first part resulted in a collaboratively created list of ideas for initiatives and actions steps for EngageNWA. Participants were then asked the following three questions: -What are resources needed to address these initiatives? -What are challenges and barriers to address these needs? -Where do you see areas of policy that EngageNWA can support? iii. Findings The five forums conducted with leaders of the community resulted in a plethora of information on the strengths and areas of growth in service provision in Northwest Arkansas, as well as initiative ideas for the EngageNWA Immigrants from Abroad coalition. The wide range of employment opportunities and high quality of living in Northwest Arkansas were some of the most mentioned regional highlights. The most commonly mentioned areas of opportunity were leadership training for diverse populations, public transportation, and effective communication about services in Northwest Arkansas. In thinking about ways to address these needs, many forum respondents suggested initiatives focused on a digital communication platform, leadership training programs for immigrant youth and adults, a cultural welcoming center, and advocacy for workforce development funding. When identifying strengths in service provision to immigrants in Northwest Arkansas, respondents identified eight areas of strength: employment opportunities that include a range of stable jobs from low to high-skilled; an education system is accessible for all K-12 populations with good programs supporting immigrant children; a low cost of living; a safe, low-crime area; a health service provider ecosystem that is meeting a lot of the needs in the immigrant community; a diverse religious landscape; relatively easy access to political leadership in the region; and an environment that is accepting of newcomers. Regional Leadership is interested in increasing diversity in leadership positions in corporations, school systems, volunteer work, and public offices through leadership training opportunities. In response to areas of growth for service provision to immigrants in Northwest Arkansas, respondents identified: better coordination in communicating services and events both amongst service providers and to the community; more development programs and opportunities for immigrant youth; increased linguistic accessibility including adding bilingual staff in service organizations; a need for a more robust public transportation system; reducing barriers to full participation in educational opportunities, particularly around tuition and financial aid; increasing diversity in leadership positions in corporations, school systems, volunteer leadership positions and public offices through leadership training opportunities; better meeting 16
  17. 17. the service and health needs of those in poverty; and provision of immigration counseling services for those affected by any executive actions around immigration. Initiatives to address these areas of growth fell into six broad categories, including communication, education and leadership training, public transportation, inclusion and welcoming, regional urban planning and policy advocacy. More specifically, communication initiatives included a smartphone app or mobile website to raise awareness of service and events with cultural specificity. Education and leadership training initiatives included a mentoring program for high school and college-aged immigrant students and increasing immigrant participation in leadership and development training opportunities. Public transportation initiatives included suggestions to enhance transportation options including a ride-sharing program, service taxis and expanded bus routes. Inclusion and welcoming suggestions centered on a welcoming center initiative aimed at orienting newcomers to the region. Initiatives in regional urban planning centered on planning for affordable, integrated housing. And finally, policy and advocacy initiatives suggested included statewide pre-k access, accessing state funding for workforce development, in-state tuition for all residents and employees of the state, and a change to the English-only law in education. 17
  18. 18. Conclusion After nearly 450 conversations with individuals in Northwest Arkansas, a clear picture of Northwest Arkansas’ adaptation to diversity begins to emerge. Our research reveals a widespread enthusiasm for greater community integration. New Americans express desires to communicate more effectively with their new neighbors and hopes to access higher education; service providers seek to better reach and serve New Americans; regional leadership is identifying and supporting welcoming and inclusion efforts. One common theme to emerge from our research is the desire for better communication. New Americans are in need of services that have bilingual staff or interpreters, especially to assist them through difficult registration or enrollment processes; service providers need additional translation and interpreting resources to effectively reach the immigrant community; and leadership recognizes the need for initiatives that allow for more effective communication to New Americans about services and events available to them. This alignment between these three groups is an opportunity for all of players to act together to facilitate better communication. All groups also identified increased workforce development for New Americans as an area of opportunity for the region. New Americans cited a desire for more professional training opportunities and expanded access to English classes and other educational programs at accessible costs and times. Organizations expressed a need for more bilingual New American staff members. Leadership recognizes that creating opportunities for workforce development will be necessary for for retention of talent and long-term prosperity for the region. This alignment in priorities is another opportunity for collaboration across groups and sectors. The need for greater cross- sector and cross-cultural communication was expressed by all groups interviewed. A desire for increased workforce development opportunities was also an area of common ground across groups. 18
  19. 19. Limited resources present a challenge for New Americans as well as the organizations that serve them. One concern voiced most pronouncedly by New American respondents is the prohibitive cost of recreational programs, health services, child-care, and higher education. According to the 2014 Census, in Northwest Arkansas, 23.5% of New American families live at or below the Federal Poverty line, compared to 9.45% of native-born families. Initiatives to serve New Americans should plan to make provisions for the significant number of families for whom high costs will be a barrier to participation or engagement. Simultaneously, organizations note that there is a need for more funding to be able to carry out and expand current programming, as well as hire the staff necessary to best serve New American populations. Northwest Arkansas is one of several “emerging immigrant gateways” across the country, communities characterized by an expansive growth in their immigrant populations in the last 40 years. This research can be seen as a case study in the experiences that New Americans, service organizations, and regional leadership face when a community undergoes rapid demographic change. It also serves as an important example of how diverse stakeholders in an emerging gateway are engaging in the work of immigrant integration and striving to build a community where all residents feel at home. 19
  20. 20. www. cisneroscenter.org @CisnerosCenter