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Community Unity picnic helps bridge cultural gaps

July 30, 2012
By DAVID ALEXANDER - Staff Writer ( , Times-Republican

On a wall-sized piece of paper in Anson Park shelter, children scrawled phrases like "It's nice to be nice" and "Be a friend for a change."

The outpouring of inclusion was part of the Community Unity Picnic hosted by the Not In Our Town Marshalltown Project and Immigrant Allies Sunday afternoon.

"We came because we would like to learn to communicate, to socialize with Americans," Ignacia Aguero said through her daughter Lizette.

Article Photos

Ma Tvvay, 11, left, and Lah Say Kue, 13, write encouraging statements on a wall-sized sheet of paper at the Anson Park shelter Sunday afternoon as part of the Community Unity Picnic. The picnic, hosted by Immigrant Allies and the Not In Our Town Marshalltown Project, aimed to foster community togetherness.

The two said ending discrimination and aggression toward outsiders begins with the kind of peaceful togetherness the picnic aimed to foster.

More than 100 community members of various ethnicities turned out to the potluck and enjoyed games, food and camaraderie.

Sources all said supporting such initiatives is essential to stamping out bullying.

"We are not going to tolerate it," Marisol Aguero, 21, said.

Kelly Frohwine's daughters Savannah, 9, and Shelby, 7, danced in front of the building, doing tiny pirouettes and giggling as they filled the air with bubbles from an elongated wand.

Frohwine said she brought the girls to the picnic to meet new people, something she believes helps children understand one another and refrain from bullying.

Frohwine and many others applauded the effort, saying it is a step in the right direction.

Sam Carbajal, of Immigrant Allies, said this is just one of many initiatives geared to get people talking to their neighbors, regardless of ethnicity.

"We are thinking it is time for everyone in the community to integrate and work together," he said.

Marshalltown is still more divided than he and others would like, he said. Specifically, the language barrier impedes many Hispanics from involving themselves.

Efforts like the Not In Our Town initiative can help eliminate that reluctance, he said.

But Carbajal said encouraging Hispanics as well as other non-English speakers to include themselves isn't something that is going to happen overnight. It will take a concerted effort on the part of a lot of people.

Those at the picnic said the way to make that happen is by working to create an environment where everyone is comfortable expressing opinions and no one feels like an outsider.

"Our diversity is our strength," Aiddy Phomvisay, Marshalltown High School principal, said.

He said instilling children with anti-bullying values helps build a cultural milieu that will endure for a long time to come.



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