"The biggest thing I have learned through all of this is that the more we educate ourselves, the more we can welcome others. We have to be open-minded and welcoming - that is how Hastings grows," Mayor Mary Fasbender said, addressing participants in the Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Initiative's last YMCA-led Equity Lab on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at Hastings Golf Club.

Over the past five months, participants across the sectors of education, city government, business and law enforcement brainstormed a way to help meet the needs of the community in regards to diversity and inclusion.

The common need that every group was working under was, "The community of Hastings needs to create a more safe and inclusive community, including understanding the underlying systems and current practices that may be detracting from inclusion and creating opportunities to communication with and learn from others."

The goal of the last lab was to fine tune each groups' plan, as well as start to develop short-, mid- and long-term goals to achieving it.

"We have a lot of momentum with this group of people. We need to keep pushing to be successful," Derrick Jaeger said in a small group discussion.

Many other small discussion groups had similar sentiments, adding that collaboration between and within the four sectors would be key to making the initiative successful.

Ideas for addressing issues of inclusion in Hastings included an app for the school district, business-sponsored forums around diversity and inclusion issues, and creating business partnerships within and outside of Hastings.

To continue on the work of the initiative, a steering committee has been formed to offer support and guidance. The work will also be continued through new community engagement opportunities.

Two such opportunities the Hastings YMCA is planning on offering are Train-the-Trainer sessions and the Equity Leadership Institute.

Train-the-Trainer sessions will allow community members to get training in facilitating discussions when they come up. The Equity Leadership Institute will be an opportunity for organizations and businesses to have volunteers and employees go through an equity certification program.

The next event scheduled for the initiative is the Longer Table, a community picnic which will be held at the Levee Park Rotary Pavillion on Sunday, June 23.

For more information on how to get involved with the Longer Table or the Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Initiative, visiting www.hastingsmn.gov/equity.