International Institute of Minnesota completes its $13.2 million expansion

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Immigrants and refugees coming to Minnesota will have more resources available to them, thanks to a multi-million dollar project.

The International Institute of Minnesota in St. Paul just completed a $13.2 million expansion.

“We added 18,000 square feet, almost doubling our space so that we could expand our services,” said Executive Director Jane Graupman.

The Institute has been around for 102 years but its programs have recently seen rapid growth, requiring more space.

They built six new classrooms and interactive labs, where immigrants and refugees can receive free training for careers in hospitality, nursing and more.

Graupman said this will also help fill critical workforce shortages across the state.

“Immigrants and refugees are 97% of the new workers in our labor force in our state, so our demographics are shifting. There are a lot of baby boomers retiring, so we really have a shortage of workers. That’s a pretty remarkable statistic to see that the majority of people who enter the labor force in Minnesota now are new Americans,” Graupman said.

In addition to job training, the site provides free English classes, legal assistance and housing help.

The expansion project also features a donation room, where those in need can pick up supplies for their homes, including cookware and bed sheets.

Graupman said most of the funding for the renovation project came from individual donors and foundations, although some came from the state and federal government.

She noted one of the biggest priorities in their design was to create a space that feels safe and welcoming to new Americans.

“The space at the Institute feels sort of sacred in a way because we have people coming here who have been through really unspeakable things and events in their life, so we just want to make sure that all the signals here are saying welcome,” Graupman said.

Sylvie Sahiri immigrated from the Ivory Coast in Africa and said the Institute helped her navigate her new life in Minnesota.

“Coming here, the accent was different, the culture was different, eye contact was different. Everything was different!” Sahiri said. “The Institute helped me apply for college, get accepted to college, learn how to do interviews, all of that.”

Sahiri now lives in Woodbury and works as a home health nurse.

“It definitely did change my life and it still changes my life now,” Sahiri said.

The renovation will allow the Institute to help at least 500 additional refugees and immigrants each year, in addition to the 3,000 estimated New Americans they already serve annually.

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