When Jacqueline Gomez-Arias came to Utah from Colombia 25 years ago, she felt alone and helpless.
"I wasted a lot of time integrating and proving myself, showing what I can contribute to society," said Gomez-Arias, who persevered and now has spent several years as an advocate with nonprofits that help the mentally ill. She also serves on Salt Lake County’s Council on Diversity Affairs.
"Here I am, 25 years later, doing something about it," she added as Mayor Ben McAdams unveiled a council-inspired "Inclusion Campaign" designed to show that Salt Lake County agencies and employees "value, respect and care about all people."
"There will be no waste of time for new people," Gomez-Arias said, "because they’ll know they’re welcome here."
Signs to that effect will be posted on every county building — and outside of every county department — in which employees have completed a diversity training program and developed two or three strategies for putting these ideas into action.
Already, those signs are ready to go up on the county facilities that have the most contact with the public — recreation centers, libraries, senior centers and golf courses. A half dozen county offices also have complied, including the mayor’s office.
"The sign is a declaration of what to expect when you walk into the building," said County Office of Diversity Affairs Director Rebecca Sanchez, who oversees the employee-training program. "Hopefully, it can open some minds."
There’s no place for outmoded thinking in a county where 129 different languages are spoken in schools, McAdams said, and people hail from scores of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
"Salt Lake County is a modern day, savory stew pot" of peoples, he added, who despite their differences share a "universal desire to create a safe, healthy and bright future for their families."
Gomez-Arias said the training county employees received will enable them to change lives because they come into contact with so many people.
The signs, she added, "will remind them of the inclusion theme we have to have in our minds at all times. We have to live it. It’s all about making Salt Lake County great."
Buu Diep, the diversity council’s co-chairwoman, hopes the campaign helps new arrivals to Utah to avoid challenges she faced as a Vietnamese refugee 20 years ago. Diep said she was denied housing because of her nationality.
"There’s still work to be done," Diep said, but the signs’ messages and the employees’ training are meaningful steps toward treating people with universal respect.
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