Asistencia work, funding lives on in services from Catholic Charities |

Asistencia work, funding lives on in services from Catholic Charities

Catholic Charities of Glenwood Springs is stepping into the breech.

When the advocacy organization Asistencia para Latinos shut down last year, it left a big gap in service.

Catholic Charities has stepped in to offer immigration and advocacy services to Hispanics, said Catholic Charities director Tom Ziemann.

“We knew we couldn’t do all that Asistencia did. We decided to focus on immigration and to hire someone to function as an advocate,” he said.

But the shift was not simply a matter of opening its doors and welcoming Hispanics in. Ziemann began a lengthy negotiation with the Asistencia board to take over its funding from foundations. He also sought and won the blessing of the Garfield and Pitkin county human services commissions.

The effort still came up $20,000 short of the $80,000 needed.

Nevertheless, Ziemann hired a bilingual advocate to work in Avon. Eagle County donated the office space and pledged $75,000 for the work over three years, he said.

Recently Ziemann convinced the Aspen Valley Community Foundation and the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation to roll over their grants for Asistencia, amounting to $15,000 and $10,000 respectively, to Catholic Charities.

Ziemann also has grants from local governments, including $5,000 each from Pitkin and Garfield counties and $4,100 from Aspen.

Ziemann recently hired Rebecca Harlow to work on immigration from Catholic Charities’ Glenwood Springs office, housed in St. Stephen’s Catholic Church.

Ziemann said Harlow is a good fit with the program.

“She’s passionate about what we’re doing and social justice,” he said.

She now has about 40 clients whom she is helping with immigration issues.

While a private immigration service also set up shop in Carbondale last year, Ziemann said the Catholic Charities program is certified by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. It also has an attorney in Denver who specializes in immigration law to oversee Harlow’s work in Glenwood Springs.

An initial consultation with Harlow will cost $50, as opposed to the $150 to $200 fee normally charged by an attorney, Ziemann said.

“We’re the only certified affordable immigration service in the valley,” he said.

Ziemann is also looking for a part time Latino advocate for the Glenwood Springs office. Once he secures more funding, it will become a full-time position.

He’s also launched a cultural training program for Hispanics. During Ziemann’s military service overseas, the military put him through training classes on the culture “and how to stay out of trouble.”

He felt similar training would be helpful for immigrants.

The free, five-hour classes are offered through employers and teach practical matters such as renting an apartment, opening a checking account and how to use public transportation. Hispanic employees also learn about American law, especially as it pertains to domestic violence and drunk driving.

The Vail Cascade Hotel, Cordillera and the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek have offered the training to their employees, Ziemann said. He’s hoping employers in the Roaring Fork Valley will also take advantage of the training.

Graduates come out of the class “culturally savvy. They’re more likely to stay out of trouble and not have to learn from the college of hard knocks. They’d learn how to get things done,” Ziemann said. “It’s a proactive approach.”

For information about Catholic Charities’ programs, call 384-2060.

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