Wesley Homes Celebrates Cultural Diversity

Wesley Homes International Day is a fun and growing event that honors the cultural diversity of staff and residents.

Last month, the Wesley Homes Des Moines campus held its Fourth Annual International Day celebration, now a two-part event with the Flag Parade of Nations and the very popular International Bite of Wesley Homes.

The flag parade was introduced this year to celebrate the diverse national backgrounds of Wesley’s staff and residents. Many staff members wore traditional clothes of their nation, and some brought their children to help carry the flags.

Des Moines Terrace Resident Council Chairman and WWII vet Ed Lacrosse was selected to carry the United States flag to complete the ceremony. As the “Star-Spangled Banner” played, the participants and audience joined in singing.

“It all unfolded so smoothly and naturally. By the end, it brought tears to people’s eyes,” said Ed. “It was just a very powerful and beautiful event.”

In the afternoon, the International Bite began. Staff treated their co-workers, residents and families to food from 13 different nationalities, such as the Philippines, Ethiopia, India and Tonga. Along with food, the event featured dance and musical performances from groups of well-practiced staff volunteers.

“This has become a very large and popular event on campus, but it started small,” said Wesley Homes Des Moines Director of Resident Engagement Naniofa Poulivaati-Mounga.

In 2012, Nani created a program for residents at Wesley Homes Des Moines Health Center. She took residents on a virtual “cruise” to different countries using a slideshow presentation. Over the period of a month, she would feature a new country each week. Eventually, she began incorporating small dance and musical performances from volunteers.

Residents expressed to Nani their desire to know more about the staff, their national backgrounds and cultural heritage.

The employees were excited by the interest in their culture, and eagerly accepted the opportunity to proudly share their customs and cultural cuisine with both the residents and their co-workers.

Wesley staff began to cook and bring their own food for the event. In 2015, the International Bite was so popular that it outgrew the Health Center and had to be moved outside. It was then opened to other Des Moines campus staff and residents.

“In becoming acclimated to living in the U.S., some first generation immigrants can feel pressure to assimilate and may fear losing their cultural identity. This event has been an opportunity for people to share the joy and pride they have in their customs and traditions,” said Nani. “It’s really brought employees, residents and all their families together even more, and I think it helps everyone feel more valued as individuals.”

What began as a slideshow presentation is now a day-long event with a colorful parade and an outdoor celebration held under a large tent with international cuisine and a stage for performances.

The event is made possible by the Resident Engagement team and generous staff members and their families who volunteer their time and energy to provide food and entertainment. The Wesley Homes Foundation also sponsors the International Day event.

“The International Day is a great expression and celebration of the cultures and people who live and work at Wesley,” said campus Executive Director Alex Candalla. “The beauty of Wesley Homes lies in the diversity of its people. We each come together to create a special community where our different backgrounds, skills and experiences give our community a fresh and unique perspective.

“We continue to depend on each other, embrace each other and celebrate our differences. These are the things that make our community such a vibrant place.”

View photos of this event here!