The Blandin Foundation held its first recruitment informational meeting on Tuesday for its Leadership in Ethnically Diverse Communities (LEDC) program, happening in the fall.

Recruitment Manager Becky Adams was present to answer questions from multiple visiting community members from Butterfield, St. James, and Madelia.

LEDC means to increase rural leaders' capacity to develop and sustain healthy, inclusive communities and reduce systemic racial and cultural barriers.

The program curriculum focuses on building a healthy community where members can meet their needs, work together for the common good, and participate in creating their future. The learning objectives include recognizing cultural filters and their impact on views and interactions, experiencing the importance of trusting relationships to work across cultural differences, building intercultural confidence, deepening the understanding of each person's culture, interpersonal skills, knowing community resources, and more.

LEDC is open to all community members, but the foundation only selects 30 after the recruitment process. The Blandin Foundation recruits to represent a diverse population within gender identity, age (18 and over), ethnicity, and sector, such as businesses, nonprofits, government, healthcare, education, etc. The selected individuals are credible, open-minded, actively (or would like to be) involved in community life, risk-takers, willing to collaborate and promote a healthy community, and passionate about their community's future.

Seven sessions are held within the community, around a month apart, running from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The Blandin Foundation covers the total cost of the program. Individuals can also apply for Rural Leadership Access Funds through the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation to cover any financial barrier preventing them from attending.

The Blandin Foundation is private, independent, and based in Grand Rapids, MN, seeking to strengthen rural Minnesotan communities through grants, leadership programs, and public policy initiatives. Communities invite the foundation through an application process.

The St. James application identified now as a good time for the community to participate in LEDC because St. James has 40% of residents and 51% of K-12 students who identify as Latinx. The Uniting Cultures/Uniendo Culturas community group has also spent the past two years, “effecting positive change in St. James through efforts to create a more inclusive and equitable community."

The application stated the community's older, white, patriarchal model of decision making makes it difficult for younger people, females, and people of color to become actively involved. Some of the factors behind the inequity include language barriers, lack of time, lack of opportunity awareness, lack of connection and networking, and at times, immigration status.

The application also stated the community is hoping for more positive changes from understanding cultural differences, more interaction, and learning useful leadership skills.

Recruitment Manager Becky Adams confirmed the foundation combining Butterfield, St. James, and Madelia is very rare.

"It really is that 'stronger together' across the communities," said Adams. "It just affects everyone."

The next recruitment informational meeting will happen on March 16 at 6:00 p.m. at La Plaza Fiesta restaurant in Madelia.