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Patrick Boaz saw a language barrier keeping elderly residents from knowing what was happening in the community, so he started a Marshallese newspaper.

Niru Raghavan saw South Asian women having trouble acclimating to Northwest Arkansas and finding work, so she helped start Ready for Success.

Growing diversity

Northwest Arkansas continues becoming more diversified as the overall population grows. The metropolitan statistical area’s population passed 500,000 people in 2014 after more than doubling in 24 years. The Northwest Arkansas metropolitan statistical area includes Benton, Washington and Madison counties and McDonald County, Mo.

Benton and Washington counties were 96 percent non-Hispanic white in 1990, dropping to 74 percent in 2014. The Hispanic population grew from 1 percent to 16 percent in that same time frame.

The Hispanic population is not the only one to grow over that 24-year time span. Asians and Pacific Islanders went from less than 1 percent to 3 percent and blacks increased from 1 percent to 3 percent.

Source: Staff report

Reggie Brasfield saw the lack of radio stations geared toward the black community as an opportunity to start an urban radio station.

These are a few examples of area residents helping fill the void of services for a growing minority community, but the consensus is that holes still exist.

Mike Malone, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council, said the organization wanted to make sure the region was welcoming to diverse cultures and created the 2014 "Engagement of Diverse Communities in Northwest Arkansas" report.

"We needed to get a better feel for what the needs and challenges are," he said.

Focus groups from several minority groups helped craft the report, with three main needs emerging: more cultural programming alternatives, a communications infrastructure that reaches all cultural communities and improved public transportation.

Jay Amargos facilitated some of the focus groups for the 2014 report and said one thing that stuck out to her was that some immigrant groups formed small support communities. She is head of Minority Small Business Inclusion at Startup Junkie Consulting.

"That's nice, but how do you get them out to be part of the bigger community?" she asked. "They were integrated within themselves, but not with the rest of the community."

Startup Junkie is doing its part on the entrepreneurship front, she said, offering all information in English, Spanish and Marshallese.

"The Latino community has been successful and I see 10 Latinos a week," Amargos said.

She has lived in Northwest Arkansas for 17 years and said she was initially a bit skeptical that this report would actually lead to any changes.

"But from Day 1 we knew this was going to be different," she said.

Getting engaged

One reason this report is different, she said, is it prompted the creation of EngageNWA. The organization started as a Northwest Arkansas Council committee and spun into its own group.

EngageNWA focuses on three groups: immigrants from abroad, those relocating a business and secondary and post-secondary students.

Malone said progress has slowed a bit as organizers search for an executive director, but Emily Hackerson, an American Dream fellow for the Cisneros Center, is keeping the momentum going on the immigrants from abroad group. Cisneros Center for New Americans is a nonpartisan, nonprofit institution focused on immigrant integration. The local office is in Springdale.

"This is a much needed coalition, but it's not an easy task," she said. "We help groups collaborate and see where missions overlap."

One organization she pointed to is the Springdale immigrant resource center, which opened in August.

Mireya Reith, executive director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition and heading the state's five centers, said a lot of their clients seek help with citizenship and work permits.

"They can definitely get direct support from us, but they can also get an assortment of information about resources on navigating life in Northwest Arkansas," she said. "They can learn about connecting with the community."

Community changes

Zessna Garcia-Rios, an American Dream fellow, has lived in Northwest Arkansas for 24 of her 27 years. She said she is seeing changes within the community.

"People are becoming more aware and seeing (immigrants) as community members," she said. "We are also seeing more participation from all communities."

Garcia-Rios pointed to Boaz as an emerging leader from the Marshallese community.

Boaz moved to the region in 2011 and worked for the Springdale School District. He published his first newspaper last year. He tries to publish twice a month, but as a self-funded startup, it's not always possible. The fourth edition of "Chikin Melele" published Jan. 27 and he hoped to have No. 5 out mid-month.

Each edition costs $2.

"Sometimes I have to pay out of my pocket. I am learning as I am running the business," he said. "But this paper is growing."

One of his goals is to show Marshallese children that they have options.

"I want to give the kids the belief that if you believe it, it can come true," Boaz said.

Heather Butler has the same thought about the Marshallese Girl Scout troop she started late last year. She works at the Arkansas Department of Health's Springdale Outreach Clinic and interacts with the Marshallese community daily.

"I bounced the idea off a few people, and they were all for it," she said. "It was a perfect fit."

Many of the women Butler approached about letting their daughters attend a meeting had never heard of Girl Scouts, and those who had thought it was for rich kids, she said.

The troop started with five girls and is up to 26. It is the first Marshallese Girls Scout troop in Arkansas. Butler said their uniforms feature both United States and Marshallese flags.

"I made it clear to the women that I didn't want to take these kids out of their culture and make them 'white girls,'" she said.

'Sense of home'

Brasfield hopes his urban radio station provides a new avenue for cultural diversity in music and information. He is executive director of KDIV-LP, 98.7 FM, a low-powered, noncommercial station.

The station is part of the nonprofit Voice of Diversity Organization and will exist largely on grant funding and donations. It began operations out of a local home Jan. 1 and moved into a studio on Dickson Street in Fayetteville earlier this month.

"From an African-American perspective there were no radio stations or news stations that were covering African-Americans in Northwest Arkansas," he said. "I also want to entertain and draw people in; create a sense of home."

The station plays a mix of R&B, hip hop, blues, jazz and gospel.

Perry Publishing and Broadcasting also kicked off an urban radio station this year. KQIS 105.3 FM remodeled space on the ground floor of The Dickson, an office and condominium building on Dickson Street.

Raghavan said her group started meeting in 2014 after she and some friends saw an opportunity to help women who just moved to the United States. Most of the women are from India.

"Often times the husband is the one that comes here to work for Wal-Mart or a Wal-Mart vendor in IT and the woman is a trailing spouse," she said. "They don't have the visa to work at first, and when they are eligible they have trouble getting into the workforce."

The group varies in size from six to 30 people depending on the topic and timing. Interviews and resumes are popular topics, she said.

"We're not much different that what a career placement center would do," Raghavan said.

A friend asked Devang Thakore if he wanted to play a game of badminton; the last time he played was 25 years earlier in India. Badminton is the second most played sport in India behind cricket.

He picked it back up and soon decided he needed to create a more organized league: the Bentonville Badminton Club. About 50 players attend one of two three-hour sessions at the Bentonville Community Center. He would like to meet more often, but court space is not available.

"We haven't done a lot of publicity because it's a supply and demand issue," he said. "We have a large amount of players, but not a lot of court space."

Thakore said it's important to teach the younger generation that they can play sports.

"Kids have the mindset they are only good for studying," he said. "This is such an inclusive sport that everyone can play."

NW News on 03/27/2016

Print Headline: Diverse population inspires unique services

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