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Grant paves way for Northwest College intercultural center

A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities will provide $131,000 in matching funds for Northwest College to buy and remodel a home near the college to serve as an intercultural center.

That is a longtime dream for Harriet Bloom-Wilson, director of international programs at the college. She stressed that the center will benefit the entire college and the community in addition to serving as a “home base” for international students.

“It’s been an idea for a number of years, to have a place that could be kind of ... a hangout and multipurpose center that would be welcoming to international students, minority students and American students as a place to gather with a kitchen available on weekends,” she said.

Now that it’s nearing reality, “we’re already envisioning all kinds of uses it could serve,” she said. Those include hosting seminars, cultural presentations, speakers, book discussions, exhibits and displays, to name a few. Discussions and exhibits could be timed to coincide with Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month and Women’s History Month, among others, Bloom-Wilson said.

It also could serve as a place to archive records of past intercultural activities as well as documents, art and presentations.

“When we have programs ... it’s kind of a hit and miss kind of thing, then it’s over,” she said. “With this kind of thing, there would be ways to continue it, to have a follow-up discussion group to continue the dialogue of what was discussed. It could be something purely cultural like food, or talk about religions or talk about Africa in general — there are so many ways to continue the conversation, but we’ve never had a space for that.”

The house chosen to serve as the intercultural center is the Copenhaver house at 565 College Drive, across the street from the college.

“When it came up for sale, we thought, ‘What a good place,’” Bloom-Wilson said. “We like the fact that it’s off campus, and it has so much potential in terms of size and light.”

Tracy Copenhaver, whose parents owned the house for five decades, said he and his mother Kay Copenhaver (his father has passed away) are thrilled that the home will become the college’s new intercultural center.

“As part of the community, they have supported the college for many, many years,” he said. “I am happy that house will get a chance to become part of the college that they had a chance to observe and watch grow for the last 50 years. We’re very appreciative of the work of the college and the foundation in making this happen.”

The Copenhavers also helped by donating additional money for the project, as did the Nelson family, said NWC Foundation Director Shelby Wetzel.

Fundraising so far has brought in $70,000, and another $10,000 grant is expected. That money, combined with the initial grant payment, will assure purchase of the home, Wetzel said. Renovation is slated to start next spring, with a goal to open the center for the 2012-13 school year.

Wetzel and NWC grant writer Megan Wilson submitted the grant under the NEH “Bridging Cultures” program, which is designed specifically for linking cultures at community colleges.

Wetzel said the grant will pay for one-third of the $200,000 cost to purchase house and the estimated $90,000 needed to remodel it.

Work by college employees to remodel the house will count as an in-kind contribution to the project and will go toward the college’s required two-thirds match for the grant, Wetzel said.

Another $105,000 will create an endowment to provide ongoing money to help with the center’s operating costs. Of that, $35,000 will come from the grant, $35,000 from private donations and $35,000 from state matching funds.

Wetzel said the National Endowment for the Humanities was “very excited about this project in a rural setting ... and as a role model for others.

“We are really becoming known for this specialty niche,” she said.

With the new intercultural center, “We’ll be educating the whole community — bringing the world to us if we can’t get away ... it’s all about culture sharing.”

Bloom-Wilson said she was surprised and elated that the National Endowment for the Humanities approved the grant.

“I thought it was a long shot,” she said.

In an email announcing the grant award to people who had written letters of support, Bloom Wilson wrote, “Apparently, the readers of the grant found our proposal to be especially worthwhile, given the size and location of our community ... the little town that thinks globally!”

(Editor’s note: On Page 13, Dr. Samuel “Sammy” Inkumsah tells about his experience as an international student at Northwest College in 1997-98.)

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