Frontline Initiative Diversity

Proud to be Different


Ralph Vunderink works for Spectrum Community Services

To many, if not all, immigrants, the United States of American is known as the melting pot of nations, making one out of many (as our national motto had it: e pluribus unum). Of late, an alternative adage is emerging: cultural diversity. Since its borders have become open to all five continents, the U.S. exhibits an unprecedented diversity of people and cultures, each putting their imprint on our country.

I, a native of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, know well what it takes to come to the U.S. and to accommodate its diversity. For example, I had to learn English as the first step toward becoming a fully accepted resident of Michigan. I became a DSP after a rewarding career as a college teacher. I am pleased to belong to a community that has a genuine concern for the welfare of its diverse workforce.

The company I work for is Spectrum Community Services, Western Regional Office (WRO), established in 1993. Shortly after it opened, the company took note of the cultural diversity among its West-Michigan’s employees and appointed a task force to better understand and nurture diversity. Headed by a capable employee who was not originally from the U.S., the task force provided a forum for employees to look at their own potential prejudice and to respect workers from other cultures. These forums made it clear that the company was always interested in our opinions and made it its aim to help us accept and embrace differences — cultural, ethnic, or communal.

These diversity forums were held bimonthly during morning sessions at various group homes. Videos, group discussions, and guest speakers were used to facilitate focused discussions. One session revealed the marked differences between people who work in rural homes and those in metro areas, and between long-established work teams and those recently formed. Another session vividly portrayed the persistence of sheer discrimination in some parts of our country, while still another session outlined a model that can be used to resolve culture-related conflicts.


Measuring the effectiveness of these sessions is exciting. Through interviewing staff members, I discovered some rewarding changes that occurred in various homes as a result of the diversity forums. One Proud to be Different employee has observed a positive attitudinal change in some of his coworkers toward his sexual orientation. Spectrum, he added, has always been understanding and supportive during his three years of employment, even if some of his coworkers were not. A more recent employee is grateful that Spectrum respects his African background (specifically his accent). He is sharing with his U.S. born coworkers some of the Kenyan ways to show respect for the consumers. The mutually beneficial interaction among various cultures has positively affected daily operation of group homes as well. African coworkers are assisted to become familiar with American culinary recipes, while Americans are introduced to African cooking.

Since its inception in 1993, Spectrum (WRO) has encouraged cultural diversity and promoted respect for and appreciation of contributions from those who came from other parts of the globe. The company is still working hard to further improve cultural diversity in its workers and consumers. We have strong leadership that leads to unified organizational efforts. In the coming years, our goal will be figuring out how to best balance diversity and unity, fluidity and cohesion. In this uncharted course, we expect challenges, but feel we are up to the task.