People of Willmar – Nagi

Nagi’s warm smile filled the coffee shop. As I said hello, she joyfully welcomed me in. Her enthusiasm was palpable and her excitement for life and helping others was literally bursting out of her.

Nagi comes by this vibrant personality naturally. She has had some excellent role models in her life. As she talks about the courage and determination of her mother, it’s clear that she had a strong role model. Her mother got her children from Somalia to Ethiopia. She made sure they had food to eat, and as much safety and comfort as she could provide.

While Nagi was witnessing her mother’s strength and determination, she was experiencing the encouraging words of her father. Nagi’s father was always telling her how smart she was. As she explains the way her father sounded when he introduced his “very smart daughter” to others, she nearly erupts with energy. She said, “I could feel it, they weren’t just words. He really meant it, I could tell he believed in me!” Her father also encouraged her to speak up and use her voice. When she was little and mostly boys were going on the school field trips, he made sure she went too. Her mother was setting an example of courage in action and her father was sending a message to her to be strong.

When Nagi arrived in America as a teenager, the weight of the world was placed on her shoulders. She was now parenting her six younger siblings. Trying to navigate housing and life in the Twin Cities, High School in another country, all of which was in a new language, it was a momentous challenge.

Nagi knew that education was the way up. She had always valued education and felt this was an opportunity that she must tackle. With enthusiasm and determination, she pressed on. The guidance counselr at school took notice of her. When the counselor learned that entering a school system in a new country was not Nagi’s only daily struggle and responsibility, but that she was also raising a family, the counselor stepped up. The counselor pledged support by offering to help correct essays, and she kept track of Nagi’s grades. The counselor became a third mentor in a childhood that helped form the incredible woman Nagi is today. The counselor made Nagi feel like she could do it. And, she did.

Willmar was sort of an accident. Living in the Cities at the time, one of Nagi’s childhood friends was having a baby and asked her to come to Willmar for the birth. The birth turned into a C-Section and the friend needed extended help. Nagi found a job at ACMC as an interpreter. Helping Somali members of the community and the health care providers communicate about such important matters was rewarding. Her next step would be even more-so.

Nagi accepted a position with the Willmar Middle School. She could now soar in her quest to make a difference in the lives of others. As a person who felt lost when she first arrived, she didn’t want others to have to feel that way. As someone who experienced encouragement that made an impact, she was set to do the same. Nagi worked tirelessly to help the large Somali student population. She tracked everyone’s grades. The kids knew that someone was watching, so they should try and do well. They also knew that someone believed in them. She asked the kids questions like “what do you want to be?” Then she would ask, “well, how do you get there?” Planting a seed, getting them to think about their future, and encouraging them to start taking the steps they needed to take to get there was her hallmark. She wanted the students to believe that big things were possible for them, and she wanted to mentor them on the right path. If a student was struggling in a class because of the language barrier, she took the time to explain the studies in Somali until the student got the concept, then helped them translate the work into English. Determined to make a positive impact and shape their lives for the better, she gave them boundless energy, enthusiasm, and guidance.

Nagi has been instrumental in the Community Integration Center as well, serving as the Director of Education. She wants to serve as a positive example to the area youth. She strives to help them understand their potential, challenges them to work hard, and encourages them to be themselves. Her message to the kids is to have a goal, and visualize how to get there. She believes it is important for kids to hear that they can do anything they set their minds to. She has confidence in them, and encourages them have confidence in themselves.

Now, for a new chapter. Nagi has started a job with Southern Prairie Community Care – Center for Community Health Improvement. Her infectious enthusiasm as she talked about her new role was remarkable. While many would be overwhelmed in the first few weeks of a new job, Nagi was exploding with excitement about the possibilities. She has been hired to bridge the gap between area healthcare and the Somali community. She will serve as a link where cultural and linguistic barriers exist. Her passions lie in helping others, and she is thrilled to have yet another job where she gets paid to do just that.

When they came to tell us the coffee shop was closing, I felt an ache that my time with this bundle of positive energy had to come to an end for the night. There are people in the world who make you happy, energized and excited just to be around them. Nagi is definitely one of those people.

– Marn Steinwand