A Century of Service and Counting
Founded in 1919 as a branch of the St. Paul YWCA, the International Institute of Minnesota was originally created to address the unmet needs of the area’s rapidly growing immigrant population following World War I. We offered the first English language classes in Minnesota, as well as citizenship support and other social services specifically for immigrant women and their families on St. Paul’s West Side.
We entered a new era of expansion in the 1930s under the leadership of our third Executive Secretary, Alice Sickels. She diversified the Institute’s programs and launched new initiatives like the Festival of Nations, a multicultural festival designed to inspire people to embrace the rich cultural diversity in our community. It began in 1932 and ran until 2019 as Minnesota’s largest multi-ethnic celebration.
During World War II, the Institute played a vital role supporting Japanese American families forcibly removed from their homes and communities. We started the Saint Paul Resettlement Committee in 1942 to sponsor people to leave internment camps to work as translators at Fort Snelling, while our caseworkers helped their families find housing in Saint Paul.
When the U.S. government began its refugee resettlement program in 1974, the Institute immediately started resettling Lao, Hmong and Vietnamese displaced by the war in Vietnam. The Institute hired Minnesota’s first bilingual case manager. Today our case managers reflect the many refugee and immigrant communities we serve. Our staff speaks almost 30 combined languages.
Our first workforce development program launched in 1990 with the goal of matching the talents of New Americans with the needs of local employers. Since then, our Medical Careers Pathway has helped more than 3,200 New Americans find work as nursing assistants, nurses and other medical professionals. In 2013, the Institute created the Hospitality Careers Pathway to help newly arrived people with limited English skills find jobs and create immediate financial stability. The Institute’s New American workforce development programs are now viewed as a national model for success.
Providing a pathway to U.S. citizenship has long been a core value of the Institute. Since 2001, we have helped 16,000 people apply for citizenship, while also hosting naturalization ceremonies and teaching citizenship classes.
Now in our second century of serving New Americans, the International Institute of Minnesota continues adapting programs to meet the evolving needs of Minnesota’s diverse immigrant and refugee communities. Our founding values from 1919 are very much alive in our core services today. We remain deeply inspired by our past, while rising to the challenges of increasing global crises that require solutions created community-by-community.
Through refugee services, immigration assistance, career development, and education, the International Institute of Minnesota continues welcoming New Americans who contribute to the rich diversity and strength of our state.
You can learn more about our history in Ramsey County History’s spring 2019 issue, which marked our centennial anniversary, and at MNopedia, the Minnesota Historical Society’s online encyclopedia about Minnesota.