Tanya Paley – CulturFest Ambassador for 2018


Tanya Paley is an advocate, advisor and mentor and friend for youth and adults from many cultures and religions. She is multilingual and has lived all over the world and she brings that passion and experience to her community work.

As the Director of Strategic Operations for the United Way of Steele County, she lives the mission of calling to all of us to “Live United.”

In her job Tanya brings this mission to life by convening community stakeholders to design and implement community impact projects that seek to eliminate barriers to sustainable income for all, and work toward educational success and good health for everyone in Steele County. These have included the Imagination Library, the Preschool Bus, the Mobile Food Shelf and Summer food program at the Library and the Steelecoworks program to ensure everyone has a plan after high school.  Tanya has been a voice to ensure that all of these programs have broad and diverse community engagement and are always seeking to increase racial, cultural and economic equity in who is served.

This year Tanya launched a Bilingual Student Ambassador Program and summer internship with United Way working to elevate and empower 12 bilingual teens to see themselves as possessing assets and perspectives that the community needs.  She worked with them to be comfortable as cultural ambassadors and advocates for community understanding and equity.  Tanya also spearheaded the launch of a volunteer website that makes the process of serving as a volunteer in many organizations across our community- from one-time events, through Board membership more transparent and accessible to all. It is volunteerconnect.unitedwaysteelecounty.org.

Tanya has been the lead on creating CommUnity Table events. In the last year this partnership with Marnitas Table has convened several community events around Authentic Welcome and Engagement and has provided training in GenConnec,t a method to host home dinner parties that break down barriers of age class, race and culture. Tanya is now one of several master trainers (along with Edel Fernandez and Kim Schaufenbuel)  in this method of gathering community intentionally in a way that everyone feels uniquely valued and that they belong. She will be leading additional volunteer trainings this year and the Master Trainer team will be available to design and implement more community events in this model.

Outside of work Tanya and her husband Dan and two daughters Sophia and Erica open their home for community Chanukah parties and Passover seders.  They were host parents for a student last year from Indonesia and Tanya is currently  the co-Youth Exchange Officer for Owatonna Rotary Youth Exchange, supporting students to come to Owatonna and to leave Owatonna for a school year to be Rotary Youth Ambassadors for their country and culture.

Tanya is also a Steward in Owatonna Forward and part of the Transitional Leadership team,  working to ensure that as Owatonna moves forward we are intentionally creating a community where everyone feels a sense of belonging and ownership.

Maribel Palomo – CulturFest Ambassador for 2017

The youngest of eight children growing up in a Migrant family, Maribel has used her personal experience and challenges to become a strong leader and advocate for others. Maribel grew up in Texas and moved to Owatonna in 2000. She and her husband have four children attending various schools in Owatonna.

Maribel has experienced learning a second language and is passionate about assisting others to meet their full potential and find success in the school system and in their work setting. She is motivated by projects that help to bridge cultures and support education for children and adults.
Maribel has been employed in a variety of capacities including work at Regional Head Start Office in Apple Valley, Tri Valley Head Start, and Bushel Boy Farms. As a certified interpreter of Spanish, she has served in this capacity with Gardens & Associates, SASCO, the Owatonna Clinic, Steele County Courts, and Steele County Human Services. She has also completed an interpreter certification program which allows her to be a trainer of interpreters. Last year, she earned her Associates Degree in Arts & Ministry from the Latin American Theology and Ministry Institute and serves as a lay pastor in her church as well as youth program supervisor.
Within her role with Owatonna Public Schools, she has worked as the Spanish Liaison at Wilson Elementary and now serves Owatonna Middle School. She has also worked with the ISD 761 Migrant Program, several years during Summer School and been a leader in the annual Day of the Child celebration.
Organizing efforts to reach out and help families navigate within the community, Maribel has been a bridge for cross cultural communication. Always hard-working and committed in her role, Maribel uses her Spanish language proficiency and kind, generous heart to help hundreds of families.
Serving with an open heart, seeking equity and success for all, we are very pleased to award this year’s CulturFest Ambassador award to Maribel Palomo.

“Maribel Palomo is a gift to the community of Owatonna. Her tireless efforts in her role as a liaison in the Owatonna Public Schools has helped bridge communication, understanding, and relationships between our schools and the Latino community. She is passionate about ensuring ALL students and families feel welcome and accepted in our schools and in our community. You couldn’t find a better candidate for CulturFest Ambassador because Maribel embodies the spirit of this organization. In honoring Maribel for her work in seeking respect and equity for ALL, you help shed light on the importance of everyone recognizing the strengths, differences, and similarities we all share. “

                    Julie Sullivan, Principal, Owatonna Middle School


           Applications Acccepted Now for 2018                   Nomination form

This award is given to a member of the Owatonna community and surrounding area who has exemplified our organization’s mission:

We believe all people deserve to be treated with respect.
We recognize that diversity encompasses all cultures, races, religions, genders, ages, sexual orientations, economics, and levels of physical or mental abilities.
We are not affiliated with any particular cultural group, but seek to provide understanding and respect for all cultures.
We accept that cultural differences are not better or worse than one another, but simply different. We do not seek to change or convert people from their cultural values.
We believe that it is important to safeguard the human rights of all people in Steele County.
We believe that it is important not just to tolerate differences, but to celebrate and accept them.

The award is given to an individual exemplifying these criteria:

  • Promotes goodwill within the community.
  • Positively represents the mission and beliefs of the Cultural Diversity Network.
  • Is an advocate for their own culture and a student of others.
  • Celebrates our unique cultural diversity and fosters strong cross cultural relationships


In 2016, CulturFest honored Ibrahim Hussein with the CulturFest Ambassador Award.

Ibrahim Hussein was named the first recipient of the award. Hussein is the Founder and Executive Director of the Somali American Cultural Society of IbrahimOwatonna, a non-profit organization that works with Kindergarten through 12 students providing tutoring and homework assistance. He is a business owner, full time student at Winona State University, and is a Commissioner on the Human Rights Commission of Owatonna.  His dream is to become an elementary teacher with a special fondness for math.

Cultural Diversity Network President, Sue Schroeder had this to say about Hussein, “Ibrahim is a true servant within our community. He works in so many capacities: as an immigrant settlement guide, teacher, bridge builder, advocate, business mentor and employer. Ibrahim makes things happen to help people reach their goals. Always a hard worker, he is supportive and persistent in his efforts. Owatonna is very fortunate that he calls our City home.”

Congratulations, Ibrahim, on this well deserved award!