Integrating Cultural Competency into Your Programming

Aspire Toledo recently held a series of community conversations designed to help area service providers better understand Cultural Competency and the best ways to integrate this vital idea into their programming. An organization that truly understands Cultural Competency is one that is able to celebrate what each ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation offers a society while still being aware of the individual differences that make each person unique.

The takeaways from the first conversation were recapped in an earlier blog post; in this post, we’ll look at strategies any organization can take to make Cultural Competency one of its key components for better outcomes.

A Cultural Competency Strategy Starts with Leadership

For Cultural Competency to truly take root within an organization, leadership must play an active role. That includes the executive director, the board and senior management. Leadership is able to set the tone for the entire organization, from advising on the particulars of programming to ensuring a diverse staff is hired.

With a more diverse staff in place, it is still essential that these people feel they have a voice within the organization. That means encouraging conversations and empowering people to ask respectful questions of one another. While those discussions can occasionally take people out of their comfort zone, it’s still a necessary catalyst for growth within an

Cultural Competency in Staff Training and Programming

Once leadership has fully bought into the idea of Cultural Competency, it can be truly implemented throughout the organization’s programming. This can be another place where some discomfort may occur, but the results are more than worth it. Encouraging staff to develop a deeper understanding of the cultural needs of their clients means encouraging them to avoid making assumptions and offering more opportunities for them to engage in meaningful ways with the people they serve. Giving everyone — including young people — a voice in programming is essential as well.

As programming is developed or fine-tuned, the main thing to remember is that Cultural Competency is about building relationships. The people on your staff should be approachable and ready to treat everyone they encounter as an equal. As far as cultural differences go, the key is to recognize those differences while at the same time focusing on the commonality that exists between us all.

Measuring Success in Cultural Competency

At our community conversations, services providers are always interested in understanding what a successful integration of Cultural Competency would look like. Once programming is staffed intentionally, with people who are excited about integrating Cultural Competency, optimized programming should be relatively easy to implement.

Ideally, everyone involved in the programming — including young people — would have an opportunity to be exposed to new experiences. Even though these experiences might take them out of their comfort zone, it is necessary to gain a greater understanding. Along the way, people taking part in our community conversation recommended that opportunities are provided for self-assessment, so participants can monitor their own growth. In addition, staff members should be open to addressing feedback as it happens. When a person feels sufficiently empowered to speak out, it’s important to make sure they feel heard.

Cultural Competency: Good Policy for Better Outcomes

Throughout our community conversations, the importance of Cultural Competency was reinforced in every group activity and every discussion. Without Cultural Competency, one panelist suggested, your organization is setting up its programming to fail. Participants, especially young people, want to feel not just included, but truly understood and celebrated for their differences. They are more likely to absorb the lessons and skills imparted by your organization if you recognize just where they’re coming from. Organizations are able to stay relevant, and programming is able to deliver better outcomes. Simply put, Cultural Competency is the right thing to do!

Aspire Toledo is dedicated to providing resources that enable organizations to fulfill the outcomes our community has deemed essential to the success of any given program. We will provide further information in future blog posts, and we encourage you to check back frequently.

Thank you to the team who planned and coordinated these community conversations. Brittany Ford, Lucas County Policy Analyst and Welcome Toledo-Lucas County (TLC) Co-Lead, chaired the sub-committee of the Aspire Network Steering Committee with committee members including Marian Brannon, Lucas County Strengthening Families Coordinator, Sarah Allan, LISC Toledo Program Officer and Welcome TLC Co-Lead, Guisselle Mendoza-McDonald, Adelante: The Latino Resource Center Executive Director, and Evelyn McKinney, United Way Community Impact Officer. The sub-committee for Cultural Competency developed the plan to address cultural competency in a two-part community conversation with input from Aspire staff and the Network Steering Committee. And a special thank you to Marian, who facilitated the community conversations, Brittany Ford for additional planning and administrative support, attendees for both sessions, and to our panel of experts for Session II:

  • Janece Wooley, YWCA Inclusion Manager
  • Crystal Harris-Darnell, YMCA Youth Opportunities Program Executive Director
  • Sarah Alfaham, Local Social Worker and Arab American-Muslim Community Organizer
  • Guisselle Mendoza-McDonald, Adelante: The Latino Resource Center Executive Director