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Cultural Awareness

September 26, 2011, 10:15 PM by David Brown

Cultural Awareness
SIOUX FALLS, SD - It's been one year since Christy Nicolaisen took over as executive director of the Sioux Falls Multi-Cultural Center.  In that time, she's worked to not only to improve services to different ethnic communities, but to get rid of some of the negative publicity the MCC received under old leadership.

It may look a little chaotic when kids are running around after school.  But now, there's a little more control.

"It just looks nice and bright now and I'm happy to work here," Multi-Cultural Center office coordinator Luba Mujic said.

"Every program has been assessed," Sioux Falls Multi-Cultural Center executive director Christy Nicolaisen said. "There's been changes to every single program."

Nicolaisen says the past year has been challenging, but one she wouldn't trade for anything.

"Everything is new, it's fresh, it's getting the word out, it's helping people," Nicolaisen said. "We're very inclusive."

Being inclusive is something Nicolaisen specifically strived to achieve. Former executive director Qadir Aware's leadership came under question after accusations that certain ethnic groups didn't feel welcomed at the Center.

"I kind of knew walking in that there'd be something I'd have to fix," Nicolaisen said. "You know, with as much media coverage as there was. And the city and different funders, they wanted to know what was happening."

Aware also came under scrutiny for his financial dealings, something the Center's board of directors wanted to lock down.

"We have an outside bookkeeper," Nicolaisen said. "The treasurer that we have on the board, she's awesome. She's down here every two weeks working on the finances with us."

But Nicolaisen wanted to do more than just right the past's wrongs. She wanted to incorporate new ideas and improve old ones, including the Center's after-school program, which was licensed by the state of South Dakota last month.

"Everyone is a certified teacher," Nicolaisen said. "Whereas before it wasn't so. And that doesn't mean they're bad people or anything, it's just that we've taken that extra step to insure that the children we work with are going to be served at the best capacity that we can do it."

"It paves the way for other programs to work with us, whereas they may not have been amenable previous to the license," Multi-Cultural Center after-school program coordinator Dori Mushaney said.

When she first took over as executive director last September, Nicolaisen said she wanted to be open and honest, not just about what the Multi-Cultural Center can do, but also what it can't do.

"I don't want the misconceptions that there used to be that if you come down here, we'll find you a job," Nicolaisen said. "There are excellent agencies that will find that for you. We do after-school programs really, really well. We do driver's education really, really well."

Nicolaisen says she's also sought advice from outside the Center's walls.

"We've had a series of lunch and learns where we've invited different people from the community and we've said 'this is who we are,'" Nicolaisen said.

"She is extremely kind-hearted," Mushaney said. "She does her best to make sure everyone is treated on a level-playing field."

And while Nicolaisen says there are still things she'd like to improve, the past year has helped remove some of the negative stigma of the MCC.

"We just want to make sure everything's transparent, whether it be finances or programming, everything's very transparent," Nicolaisen said.

"I really think things have changed," Mushaney said. "I only hope the community can see those changes and continue to support the MCC because it really is a positive place to be."

Nicolaisen says she's working on several new initiatives, including a café with different ethnic foods, as well as expanding the Center's hours.

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