A welcome message

By Kelly BreckunitchNewton Kansan@KansanBreck

December 29, 2016

There's a message going around. You may not have heard it, but you might haven seen it in yards around the Newton community.

It's a message North Newton residents Stan and Marlene Smucker have had prominently displayed in their own yard for the past couple of months, one that welcomes community members of all backgrounds.

"No matter where you are from, we're glad you are our neighbor." That's the message, printed in three languages (usually English, Spanish and Arabic), relayed by the tri-colored yard sign. Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia created the original sign and made a PDF version available for anyone who wanted to produce them.

Since the initial sign posting, the message spread across the East Coast and has now made its way into Harvey County. The Smuckers noted they got their sign at Shalom Mennonite Church, having only to pay for the printing of the sign. Getting on board with that message was an easy decision for the Smuckers to make, given their personal beliefs.

"We feel strongly that our country needs to be open and accepting, especially to people having a difficult time getting acquainted with America," Stan said.

"We're all immigrants. We've all come from someplace else and taken this country, so it's ours to share," Marlene said.

Refugees are not always treated well and may even be criticized, but the Smuckers wanted anyone coming to the country to know that they welcome them, something they have done throughout their lives.

Having held pastorates in many multiracial communities in Ohio, Oklahoma and Colorado, the Smuckers have always been welcoming of individuals from different backgrounds. The Smuckers looked to build people up, not break them down.

Living in Arvada, Colorado, Marlene noted the Smuckers were part of a community of Hispanics, African-Americans and Hmong (immigrants from southeast Asia) and shared their church with the Hmong community, so that ability to coexist is something they see as crucial.

"It's just an important thing that we get to know each other," Marlene said.

Suffice it to say, the Smuckers are glad to see interest in the message growing through the yard signs, something the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at Bethel College is working to encourage as well.

KIPCOR staff decided to make its office, Kaufman House (located on the Bethel campus at 2515 College Ave. in North Newton), a place where anyone from south-central Kansas who wants a welcome sign can pick one up.

The 24-inch by 18-inch signs are available by donation (suggested $10 to cover printing) during KIPCOR's office hours, generally 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Email kipcor@bethelks.edu or call 316-284-5217 for more information or with any questions.

KIPCOR will accept donations beyond the cost of the signs, which will go to support KIPCOR's work in bridge-building and conflict resolution.

"In putting up signs, if you have questions or want support in neighborly skills or community building, don't hesitate to give us a call. We build stronger communities together," said Sharon Kniss, KIPCOR director of education and training.

Kniss added that KIPCOR staff see making the signs available to the public as a way to both draw attention to KIPCOR's presence and what it can offer in terms of peace-building skills and training, and to spread a message of welcome.

Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status, or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu.

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