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Diversity Workshops Aim to Help Understanding

During the past year, the AARP Southwest Region enlisted the assistance of four AARP Missouri volunteers to help other volunteers expand their understanding of diversity and inclusion. Workshops aim to help understand those who are different regardless of culture, race, gender, poltical views, living location, socioeconomic and other factors.

“The workshops are a part of a personal cultural competence journey,” said Aoutgwest Senior Regional Advisor Chris Michalek. “Each participant starts from their own place, own experience, own history and moves along from their own pace from understanding, awareness to application,” she explained.

According to Michalek, at the end of 2010, the Southwest Diversity Facilitator team reached 600 volunteers, adding to the 800 reached in the past year. Of the 14 regional facilitators, the four from Missouri are Sidney McCarther, Kansas City; Ron Sergent, Columbia; Dr. Arthur Visor and Sharon Wells, St. Louis. Each has a viewpoint on the treks made to numerous cities and towns in the region.

“I took this as an opportunity to participate in order to find the answer as it applied to AARP and at the same time engage others in discussions about diversity and inclusion,” said Visor, who is a member of the AARP Missouri Speakers Bureau and instructor for the AARP Driver Safety Program.

“These sessions bring into focus all the ways we ‘wound’ people, sometimes when we think we are doing ‘the right thing’,” said Sergent, AARP Missouri Executive Council member. “The workshop content goes beyond racial prejudice, which is especially powerful.”

Wells, AARP Missouri Congressional District 1 Coordinator and Speakers Bureau volunteer, was rewarded with comments from participants that substantiated the worth of the workshops. “One participant said, ‘I came here with a preconceived notion that I wasn’t going to enjoy myself or learn anything I didn’t know, but I really liked the workshop and learned a lot. I would recommend it to my friends’,” Wells said.

According to McCarther, “One of the most challenging aspects of this facilitating adventure is getting to know the make-up of the groups we facilitate and adapting the workshop presentation to fit their desires and needs.”

He said that the greatest challenge as a diversity and inclusion facilitator is to be “highly effective and meet or exceed the expectations of our volunteer clients.”

Michalek noted, “Time and time again, the facilitators share that they, as adult learners, are too, moving forward on their individual journey.”

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