One of the things that truly makes New Hanover County a special place to live is the wide variety of people who choose to call this community home.
With so many individuals from different backgrounds, cultures and lived experiences, our county truly is a place that brings together people from around the world.
While we all share a love for living in this amazing place, how we engage with our community can be vastly different. That’s why, in June 2020, we established the Office of Diversity and Equity to help build a culture and community where everyone is respected, valued and understood.
This office has been instrumental in connecting with our residents, eliminating barriers to services and resources, and establishing trust within communities. The team has worked with community partners to create events and opportunities that highlight and celebrate diversity, while cultivating a safe space for cultural understanding.
Monica Rohena, a Diversity and Equity Coordinator, plays a major role in connecting residents with the New Hanover County team to foster an inclusive environment.
For this month’s public service profile, I wanted to ask Monica about her experiences working with our community partners and residents, and get more insight into how we all can make a difference moving forward. That conversation is below …
The Office of Diversity and Equity is still a relatively new department here in our organization, but you all have been extremely busy over the last three years making in-roads in our community. I’m curious, what are some of your proudest moments or accomplishments since joining the team?
There’s so much to be proud of that this is a difficult question to answer. We have worked on numerous events, both county-led and in coordination with community partnerships, that have truly highlighted the work and commitment of our department and others to the residents of New Hanover County.
I am overjoyed to watch our partner Cape Fear Latinos grow in their impact within the community and be recognized for the work that they do. In fact, the Cape Fear Latinos Festival has experienced such immense growth that we partnered with the City of Wilmington to hold this year’s Festival at the Live Oak Pavilion later this month, which I believe is going to be a truly special event.
Recently, our team was honored with two National Association of Counties Achievement Awards for our multicultural NHC Connect events and for our Spanish-language County show, “Su Condado.” I believe this speaks to the hard work, the ingenuity and the dedication of our team in making people of different backgrounds in our community feel welcome and included.
Over the last few years, your team has worked to establish events that bring cultural diversity and awareness to the forefront, and we’ve seen just how important these engagement opportunities are. As someone helping bring these events to life, what’s it like to see the community embrace these moments?
I am so grateful and honored to be a part of this team and to represent New Hanover County. Just to see the growth of these events from one year to the next demonstrates the strength of our residents, the awareness of what needs to be done to see our community flourish, and the partnerships that have evolved from all the connections we’ve been able to establish.
We continue to spotlight special people and their work through the Equity Awards Gala. Cape Fear Latinos can and will make a greater positive impact in our Hispanic community through increased support. The smiles, the laughter, and the tears at the Williston Legacy Graduation showed us the need to recognize and bring awareness to injustices, but more importantly, to help those impacted to heal and move forward. Through these events and other future projects we can continue to bring awareness to our growing culturally diverse community, any injustices, and the issues the county needs to tackle.
You help to identify and bridge gaps in services for individuals and families every day – whether it’s for county programs or other local services. What do you see as the greatest challenges to your work, and how can we help overcome them as a community?
One of the greatest challenges we encounter is communication, or more specifically, the lack of communication. Many of our residents are not aware of the resources and services that are available to them. These challenges could be due to language barriers or because of financial hardship.
As a community, we have to work together to reach these underserved populations, be creative in our approach in reaching them, even if we have to go door-to-door for conversations or set up an information table at a store or restaurant that are visited by these populations. We need to meet them where they are – it’s that simple.
I hope that doing my small part with “Su Condado,” a Spanish language County show for our Hispanic residents, we can begin to bridge that gap and further our reach into these communities.
Monica’s insight into our community has truly been a great asset for our organization, and I cannot wait to see what her outreach will accomplish in the years to come. People like her make sure government truly works to benefit everyone and for that I am grateful.
If you haven’t already taken a look at the calendar of events our Diversity and Equity team are a part of, I strongly encourage you to check it out by visiting their webpage here. There are some great opportunities coming up to learn more about other cultures and celebrate diversity here in New Hanover County.