In the third of a series profiling organizations receiving grants from Minnesota’s Department of Human Services (DHS), this issue of Northern Light features Progressive Individual Resources, Inc.

Progressive Individual Resources, Inc. (PIR) is a multi-cultural provider agency that specializes in working with new African immigrant refugee children and their families to promote healthy social adjustment.

PIR’s DHS grant is for creating culture-specific gambling prevention programs. It’s focusing outreach on communities from the Sub-Saharan African region, including 46 countries with representation in Minnesota.

PIR is working to sustain a collaborative partnership with five leading African organizations, develop an engagement strategy consistent with the needs of the African community, and create a culturally relevant outreach and education strategy.

Some of the ways that PIR is seeking to achieve these goals includes:

  • Extending outreach to new and established African communities
  • Utilizing a culturally specific, community-based model and tailored approaches
  • Engaging in culturally relevant community conversations about problem gambling and its effects

Dr. Richard Oni, Ph.D., PIR behavioral health consultant, and Bili Banjoko, M.A., LMFT, PIR psychotherapist, are performing the work. They have started by identifying communities in need, coordinating with their existing meeting schedules and making sure they connect with community spiritual leaders.

Not surprisingly, they have confronted some challenges and barriers as they seek to raise awareness about problem gambling and survey the communities to learn more about their gambling activities and attitudes. “We find that there are a variety of barriers, such as shame and trust, that keep people from speaking openly,” says Bili. “We’re also finding that people still don’t know that this is all confidential. We need to make sure community clinicians know this is confidential and that the community trusts us.”

“People are confused about the cost and whether it’s covered by insurance,” adds Dr. Oni. “Of course grants ensure that the service is free of charge even without insurance.”

“The more people hear about this, the more we think we can make an impact,” says Dr. Oni. “People continue to learn and we share new approaches with them, not just therapy. For example, if gambling issues are presented as part of cultural healing, they may be more apt to actively participate in it.”

PIR is using different communication modalities to spread the word as well as partnering with other organizations to develop messaging across different mediums. “We’ve learned to use language familiar to each community because language matters,” says Dr. Oni. “We try to express things in local dialect, which can help with participation.” There’s also the strategic use of proverbs that resonate to motivate and encourage community members. (See accompany graphics for examples.)

“You have to have awareness before you can start managing illness,” says Bili. “We’re happy now to provide both outreach and treatment.”

It takes time, but progress is being made. Dr. Oni says, “There is an African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ Together we can provide resources to those who need it most and serve this community as effectively as possible.”