Using language to build community in America's dairyland

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WIOTA, Wis. (WMTV) - With more immigrant workers on dairy farms across Wisconsin, one dairy owner in Lafayette County is giving his workers resources to help them become part of the community.

Jim Winn has been a co-owner of Cottonwood Dairy in Wiota for 19 years. He says the diary industry has changed a lot since he started working on his parent's farm as a teen.

"We milked 80, 90, 100 cows. Today we're milking 1,600. We can't do everything ourselves now. We rely on a lot of employees to take care of the normal duties of the dairy." Winn says.

He has 32 employees, 25 of them are Hispanic immigrants.

"There's a language barrier there," Winn says.

To help them learn English and become more involved with their small farming community, Winn connected with the Multicultural Outreach Program of Southern Wisconsin. An English as a second language course organizer and several volunteer tutors helped put together a class at the Wiota Lutheran Church across the street from Cottonwood Dairy.

"I want to be able to empower the Hispanic community in this area to become better citizens and one of the ways to do that is to help teach them English," organizer Kathy Case says.

Chase works with two other local tutors, Peg Rasch and Sandy Seffrood, teaching two classes a day, once a week, a few weeks of the year, to employees at Cottonwood.

"I think it's great that we're able to help them through some of those language barriers so that they can live a better life here," Seffrood says.

For the students, it's a chance to make connections, learn English and become more involved in the community.

"For me it's very very important," Cottonwood employee and student Yovani Telles says. "I need more practice for communication."

Organizers of the class say it's a chance for immigrant employees and locals to build bridges.

"They are our neighbors. Do you want to get to know them as people or do you want to push them off to the side and ignore them?" Seffrood says.

Click here for more on the Multicultural Outreach Program and information about how you can volunteer and find outreach resources.

Copyright 2017: WMTV