Wabash County Diversity Coalition

By: Mackenzie Coulter-Kern

In recent years, Wabash County as well as many rural areas in the nation have experienced a population decline which results in smaller schools and fewer of the businesses and services we enjoy. Despite this dim outlook on the future of small-town America, recent research shows that rural areas and small towns that are welcoming and inclusive to diverse populations can experience population booms and flourish, rather than decline (Carr, Litchter, and Kefalas, 2012). To capitalize on this knowledge, Imagine One 85, Wabash County’s forward-looking comprehensive plan, includes a recommendation to 

… celebrate the diversity of its residents and welcome all backgrounds to its communities. … Efforts to celebrate the county’s diversity should be explored, aligning with local opportunities including fairs, festivals, and civic events to share the unique characteristics of the community.

With a commitment to growth, the Wabash County Diversity Coalition is broadcasting this as a welcoming community where industry is growing, education is a high priority, and new housing is going up. The invitation is out to come to Wabash County, put down roots here, and enrich the quality of life in the county. 

In July of 2023, Diversity Coalition members voted to apply for fiscal sponsorship by the Community Foundation of Wabash County, meaning the Coalition could take advantage of the Community Foundation’s tax-exempt status to pursue activities such as applying for grants and receiving charitable donations. Coalition co-chairs Sarah Delgadillo and Mindy Mayes and secretary Julie Garber are providing leadership to the re-organized coalition.

Last summer, Grow Wabash County contracted with Mackenzie Coulter-Kern to conduct a needs analysis of the diversity needs in Wabash County. Coulter-Kern surveyed nearly 50 different businesses, institutions, and stakeholders in Wabash County and went door-to-door interviewing individuals from other countries and areas of the United States about the diversity needs in Wabash County. This analysis identified opportunities Wabash County can capitalize on to create a culture of welcome for all and to connect underserved individuals with the resources that they need to thrive and make Wabash County their home. 

In January 2024, the Diversity Coalition of Wabash County contracted with Mackenzie Coulter-Kern to direct the Coalition’s programs and events. Coulter-Kern has a Master’s and PhD in Hispanic Linguistics from Indiana University and over the years has spent time living and working in Argentina (Cordoba), the Dominican Republic (Las Terrenas), Mexico (Aguascalientes), and Spain (Seville). 

“The goal with our work is to make ALL individuals feel welcome in Wabash County and to partner with local businesses, institutions, and organizations to provide the support needed to connect individuals with resources to help them thrive,” said Julie Garber, secretary of Wabash County Diversity Coalition.

“Wabash County has much to offer, but unfortunately, frequently individuals don’t know about all of the wonderful resources and services in Wabash County. One of the main things the Diversity Coalition does is partner with organizations and provide consulting and translation services to help them better serve their target populations,” said  Sarah Delgadillo, coalition co-chair. “We also meet one-on-one with individuals seeking to connect them with the resources that they need to succeed in Wabash County.” 

Manchester University has partnered with the Diversity Coalition of Wabash County and has provided office space for the coalition in the Multicultural Center at Manchester University. The Diversity Coalition is also working with Welcoming America to take steps towards increasing prosperity in Wabash County by ensuring that everyone feels that they belong.

Mackenzie’s agenda for the coalition this year is to:

  • Celebrate cultural diversity through the arts
  • Create a “listening” committee to receive community ideas and concerns
  • Provide diversity training opportunities for the personnel of Wabash County businesses, industries, and organizations
  • Organize a “welcoming committee” to attract new people to the county
  • Plan a cultural heritage festival that, in the first year, features Hispanic food, music, and culture  
  • Build financial support for the Coalition
La Morenita Grocery Story in North Manchester Indiana.
Pictured is the ribbon cutting for the new Hispanic grocery store and eatery called La Morenita on Mainstreet in North Manchester, Indiana.

In May the Coalition partnered with Purdue Extension to facilitate a Multicultural Awareness training for local businesses and institutions in the Country.

“The Diversity Coalition is excited to collaborate and support other businesses and industries in Wabash County through their diversity work,” said coalition co-chair Mindy Mayes.

Multicultural Awareness training

Individuals from Manchester University, the Bowen Center, Education for Conflict Resolution, the Community Foundation of Wabash County, the Wabash County Museum, Wabash Community Schools, Purdue Extension, MPS Egg Farms, and Grow Wabash County attended the training.

The Coalition has also partnered with the North Manchester Public Library to offer a bilingual story hour on the first Tuesday of each month.

Bilingual story hour

The Diversity Coalition also plans to host a Hispanic Heritage Festival in downtown North Manchester on Friday, September 13th. “I am thrilled that we are working with a range of individuals and institutions in Wabash County to host a Hispanic Heritage festival in downtown North Manchester,” says Coulter-Kern. “We will have bands playing family-friendly music in Spanish, a Latin dance class and performance on the street, a Nicaraguan folklore dance, a wide variety of Hispanic food vendors, and even paper flower-making for adults and children with Emily Guerrero, a folk artist of Mexican indigenous ancestry. We hope that this festival adds to our culture of welcome in Wabash County and is a great educational opportunity for residents in Wabash County!”

The Coalition deeply appreciates the work that so many institutions and organizations do in Wabash County that aligns so closely with this mission. Join them in casting a wide welcome to newcomers, opportunity-seekers, talented young people, and promising entrepreneurs, regardless of their backgrounds—indeed, in celebration of their backgrounds! If you would like to partner with the Diversity Coalition of Wabash County or donate to support their work, you may make your contributions online at cfwabash.org. Or donate by check to the Community Foundation of Wabash County with “Diversity Coalition” in the memo line. 

If you have questions about how you can get involved with the Diversity Coalition or about their work, you may contact Mackenzie Coulter-Kern at diversitywabashcounty@gmail.com, or find them on Facebook.