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Culturally responsive program offers a welcoming space for Minnesota Latino immigrant communities to engage in conversations about mental health.

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Spring brings hope for warmer weather, new beginnings and growth. However, it can also be a time of immense pressure for agricultural workers, their families and communities. The complex combination of economic, social and environmental stressors can make farming difficult and demanding, creating stress and even crisis. 

To address mental health and wellness in farmers and agricultural workers, University of Minnesota Extension has joined state organizations and Cooperative Extension systems across the Midwest to form the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN).  FRSAN  cultivates support for farmers, ranchers, agricultural workers and their families as they navigate increasing stress.

For Latino agricultural workers, this stress may be heightened by additional cultural, geographic and linguistic pressures that create a critical need for culturally and contextually responsive mental health support.

Two program participants working on a craft activity
Conducted in Spanish, the Bienvenido program focuses on emotional wellbeing, adjustment and community integration.

Expanding access to mental health support for Latino immigrants

Over the past two years, FRSAN's Nebraska collaborators have trained teams across the North Central states to implement Bienvenido, a  strength-based mental health program offering support for Latino immigrants and agricultural workers. 

Trained alongside a team of facilitators from Nebraska, Colorado, Iowa and Wisconsin to bring the mental health program to their communities, Extension educators Silvia Alvarez de Davila, Gabriela Burk and Jose Lamas have now introduced Bienvenido to the Worthington community in Nobles County.

Two program participants work on an art activity
Through art and interactive activities the program uses creative pathways for participants to open up about their emotions and feelings.

Creating safe spaces 

Alvarez de Davila emphasizes the importance of the culturally responsive program for the community, noting it is home to many Latino immigrants who work for the JBS pork plant. 

Bienvenido focuses on emotional wellbeing, community integration and adjustment. The program consists of five sessions in Spanish where facilitators create an environment where participants feel safe to share their stories and ask questions about mental health.

When recruiting community members to attend the program, Lamas says, "It wasn't just JBS workers who were interested, but new immigrant families in the community too. They share similar experiences and want support." 

During the program, participants get to know each other and create a safe space to discuss the challenges they encounter upon arriving here and joining a new community.

"Many workers and families speak of the unfair treatment they receive directly in the workplace or when shopping or accessing services because of cultural or language barriers," says Alvarez de Davila. 

"It's important to name that when individuals face this discrimination in the workplace and everyday life, all of that undermines mental wellbeing."

A group of participants in the Bienvenido program
Bienvenido encourages participants to openly discuss mental health in a welcoming and accepting environment.

Breaking barriers with open conversations

With facilitators leading interactive activities like games, role-play and art, the program strives to create an environment where participants can break barriers and openly discuss their mental health. 

"The activities helped participants become more open, and by the end, they enjoyed sharing their stories and making new connections. They now show interest in other opportunities to learn more about mental health," says Alvarez de Davila.

By offering education, mental health resources and creating an atmosphere of acceptance, Extension educators like Alvarez de Davila, Lamas and Burk strive to establish safe and welcoming environments where communities can freely discuss their mental health concerns and access the help they need.

With the help of the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, Extension continues to expand efforts to provide essential mental health programs to communities throughout Minnesota.

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