Oct. 28—MANKATO — After years of work behind the scenes, organizers say Monday will mark a big step toward putting the Mankato area on the map as a center of compassion.
A pilot project known as NicBluCares began bringing a group of municipal, health care, public safety, nonprofit and education organizations together in 2019. Organizations developed a collection of best practices detailing how to help more residents feel like they belong and are cared for during difficult times.
Their work is detailed in a compassionate towns charter for Mankato and North Mankato, which can be updated as more organizations get involved.
Launching the charter is one part of the project's public unveiling Monday. Organizers asked the Mankato and North Mankato mayors to meet on the Veterans Memorial Bridge at 10:30 a.m. for a symbolic kickoff coinciding with World Compassionate Communities Day.
Bells of "Kato Towns," as the project refers to the two cities, will then ring for one minute at 10:45 a.m. The bells will be part acknowledgement of the losses everyone has experienced, said NicBluCares Executive Director Mary Ann Boe, and part a reminder that no one is alone.
"This is a call for us to really own our responsibility in caring for one another, to reach out to people who are suffering," she said. "It's a pause to say that we all have lost and we don't have to face hardships alone."
Preparing and releasing a charter gives Kato Towns the distinction of being the first compassionate cities in the U.S. by Public Health Palliative Care International's standards.
The organization has its own charter setting out steps communities can take to be labeled a "compassionate city," focused on supporting people during the last stages of their lives, their caregivers and those grieving for them.
In Mankato and North Mankato, a series of virtual focus groups went over topics such as belonging, loss and resiliency. Seven organizations participated, with another eight having to bow out due to the COVID-19 pandemic — focus groups were initially going to be in person before the pandemic.
The seven organizations include Mankato's First Presbyterian and North Mankato's Messiah Lutheran churches, Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging, Mankato Area Public Schools and Minnesota State University. The city of North Mankato and Mankato Department of Public Safety took part as well.
Each organization has best practices laid out in the charter.
Messiah Lutheran shared how it matches up members who want regular visits with a volunteer layperson. Visits from pastors supplement the layperson visits, and the church has an ongoing process to identify new people who could benefit from the visits when life changes happen.
The agency on aging, or MNRAAA, gave its best practices for when employees deal with personal life events. MNRAAA encourages and helps coordinate cards, flowers, memorials and personal emails to employees as a way to support them.
By offering up examples of what area organizations are doing, Boe said, it'll hopefully inspire more organizations to submit what they do. The charter is meant to be a living document of sorts to be updated as NicBluCares gets more information.
"We're hoping neighborhoods and churches and schools can take a look at the charter and the great pioneers who started it and then they can have these conversations," Boe said.
The project also built a directory called NicBluCaresNOW listing resources, community groups and activities in the Mankato area. It, too, will be updated on an ongoing basis as community members go in and make submissions.
If someone needs a social outlet, for instance, they can click on the "belonging" tab and find spiritual, disability and several other community groups. If they need food assistance or transportation, those tabs would connect them to local programs.
The organizers want people to turn to the directory when they need help. It'll also be a great resource for people in helping professions to alert their clients to, said Diane Witt, a researcher on the project and an associate professor of nursing at MSU.
"They can go into NicBluCares and find what community resources are out there," she said over the summer. "Most people, even health care professionals, don't know all the resources out there. This is kind of like a master list that keeps growing."
Addressing the social determinants of health, how the conditions around us affect a range of health risks and outcomes, was in mind as the project built up its charter and resource directory.
Speaking about the project earlier this year, Dr. Greg Kutcher said the compassionate communities movement takes a thoughtful approach to addressing serious issues like social isolation. Whether it's diabetes or heart disease or loneliness, the retired Mankato physician said, people tend to equate health care to more medicine and more tests. The project explores the roles empathy and community connection have in health.
"We don't have a way of creating that community very well, so NicBluCares is an effort to start thinking about it differently," he said.
Monday's event will be livestreamed on the NicBluCares Facebook page.
To read the Kato Towns Compassionate Charter, check out www.nicblucares.com.
Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola