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A cultural event





Silina Dang, an international student at Fort Hays State University, already has made a lot of friends at school.

Now she wants to make friends in the community.

Dang came to the Community Connections picnic in west Frontier Park on Sunday evening, along with her FHSU friends, to make some new friends.

Ayaka Hasegawa and Tej Tamang, also international students, came to "meet people and learn about the culture," Tamang said.

"The people are so kind," Anna Sun said of the community members.

The students were all smiles as they introduced themselves to the community members.

Hugs were in order for some returning students greeting their former mentors.

Community Connections is a program of the Center for Life Experiences, which is an extension of the community outreach ministry of First Presbyterian Church.

Community Connections was founded in 2007, said Ann Leiker, the center's executive director.

The program brings two isolated populations -- older adults whose children have grown and international students far from home -- together.

"It's a way to "highlight the wonderful diversity we have in our community, and get to know other cultures, get to appreciate others' needs and gifts as well, and build friendships," Leiker said.

The Labor Day picnic is a good way to kick off the program each school year "because the students are just here and missing their own families."

New FHSU President Mirta Martin said the picnic gives college students who aren't able to go home for the three-day weekend an activity to attend.

"We talk about being part of a family, and the community is part of that," she said.

The program is a way for the community to "stretch out a hand to the international students," Martin said.

Ken Ediger said his family has formed friendships with international students for many years.

"We make friends with them and have them join us in our life," he said. "They come to our home, and we watch(ed) the Beijing Olympics with them. We bake cookies with them. We have them over for parties at our house. We introduce them to our children. We just try to bring them into the normal aspects of our life."

Betty Innes also has been part of the program for several years.

"We always get two or three girls we mentor or grandparent through the school year," she said. "We just love it."