Sheboygan, Wis., is a surprising place. It has a world-renowned art museum. It’s known as the “Malibu of the Midwest” because of the surfing scene that takes advantage of the great waves that come off of Lake Michigan. And it has two large immigrant communities, many of whom struggle to find services, education and jobs they need to survive and thrive.
Connecting those communities with work, education and housing requires more than just meeting them where they are; it means getting involved and showing them that you’re invested in helping with education, job training, recruiting and health care.
“When I met with community organizations in Sheboygan to find what gaps there are in the community, what I heard over and over again was that there’s a referrals gap between people asking for help and getting help,” said Lisa Sanderson, positive youth development educator for the University of Wisconsin Extension in Sheboygan. “So I started looking for ways to bring employment and other opportunities to people.”
Meanwhile, Staff Management | SMX recruiter Brandon Ovalle-Santos was also looking for ways to help his food processing customers hire production workers and was looking for ways to establish himself and the company in the community.
He started with the local Saturday community soccer leagues but found a greater connection with Karina Aguirre Vazquez, who leads the Community Services Program for Partners for Community Development Inc., a local community group that works with the large Hispanic community in town.
“I knew Brandon from a previous job. When he started at Staff Management | SMX, he reached out asking where to go for recruiting,” Aguirre Vazquez said. “We discussed working together to get ideas and how to approach communities. I had already thought about partnering with Lisa to connect people with the great services and programs that we have in Sheboygan.”
Instead of working through the patchwork of organizations that address various needs in the community, they decided to get them all together. They formed Familias Unidas, a family resource fair for the community.
“We decided that if we got a group of people who want to change the world, it only looks good to get the Staff Management | SMX name out there and let them know we’re here to help you,” said Staff Management | SMX Account Director Tim Klein. “It took on a life of its own, and it’s now a really cool thing.”
What started as a way to get open jobs to people where they are, quickly grew to include information about health care, transportation and housing and COVID-19 vaccinations.
“Originally, we wanted to start with youth, but we recognized in order for youth to feel comfortable enough to go to events, we need to satisfy the basic need level for parents. We need to get the parents right so the basic needs struggle doesn’t trickle down to youth.” Aguirre Vazquez said.
They intentionally focused on the bilingual community because of the need at the production plant, but also because of need in the community. Familias Unidas’ first event was held at a local elementary school in February, with participation from the local health department, food bank, Head Start, Safe Harbor and more.
“I didn’t think it was going to turn into what it did,” Klein said. “I thought we’d get 10-20 people through the doors.”
Instead, they had nearly 100. Familias Unidas was able to organize COVID-19 vaccines for dozens of people – more than the health department had at its previous drive. They also connected 59 families with local health and human services, connected 30-40 families with the housing organization and provided information on local jobs to hundreds, with a few dozen coming in to interview at the food production plant.
Now, they are looking bigger, with the opportunity to provide bilingual resources to people in both the Hispanic and Hmong communities in Sheboygan and growing to include children’s resources. They’re also creating a dedicated room for job interviews at the Sheboygan County Community Center.
While near-future events will focus on children, Staff Management | SMX and Familias Unidas plan to build their partnership by showing that community engagement can be both fun and rewarding.
“I am excited to be part of Sheboygan United and to connect and network through the Sheboygan community,” Ovalle-Santos said. “Helping providing jobs and resources to the community as well for our associates has been a huge accomplishment as a bilingual recruiter for Staff Management | SMX. I’m excited to see the growth of Sheboygan United and how it will impact Sheboygan County.”
Familias Unidas will host a youth-oriented community event at St. Clement’s Church in Sheboygan from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on May 15.
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