Fremont group starts new ‘Welcome Buddy’ system to help newcomers and bolster the area’s economy

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The Spanish Networking Group poses for a photo at one of their meetings in December 2023. The group has grown so much, organizer Christine Torres has implemented a new system to help make newcomers feel more at ease. (Photo by Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce/Facebook)
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By Kassidy Arena, Nebraska Public Media News

The Spanish Networking Group based in Fremont sees almost 100 attendees at each monthly meeting.

And that can be intimidating, according to organizer Christine Torres. Torres, the director of membership and development for the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce, started the group to help build a more successful and diverse economy for the city as a whole, as well as specifically support Hispanic and Latino people in the business community.

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The group has seen success so far. It started for bilingual professionals in northeast Nebraska, but now has grown to cover the rest of the state and into Iowa and South Dakota. Now that it’s grown so big, Torres realized another step needed to be taken in order to continue welcoming newcomers. So, she instituted a “Welcome Buddy” system to both help the individual, but also to then open up more opportunities for that person to boost the Fremont economy.

“It’s a blessing, and it’s beautiful, and just kind of shows our Hispanic and Latino ways of how we love on each other,”

-Christine Torres, Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce

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Torres said she’d like to see other areas implement a similar program.

“I hope that companies, whether within the area or outside of the area, pay attention to that and kind of realize because, again, it can be intimidating going to any meeting and not knowing anyone there,” Torres said. “A lot of times we are the only Latina or Latino or Hispanic person at the table. So maybe hopefully, people catch on and do it in other settings whether it’s a group similar to ours, our Spanish Networking Group, or maybe in the office,” Torres said.

The Welcome Buddies help Hispanic and Latino business owners navigate how to network, offer a friendly face in the business community and act as interpreters when needed. The group meetings are often conducted in both Spanish and English, and Torres realized members who solely spoke Spanish could feel lost at times.

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“It’s a blessing, and it’s beautiful, and just kind of shows our Hispanic and Latino ways of how we love on each other and just kind of, like, take each other in,” Torres added.

Torres remembered when she first moved to Fremont, she didn’t see very many Hispanic and Latino people employed in business roles. The Nebraska Commission on Latino-Americans reported in 2020, only 966 businesses/firms in Nebraska were owned by Hispanic people. Her goal within her role in the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce is to attract more Hispanic and Latino business owners to the city.

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