Assimilation program depends on Glenwood community participation

John GardnerGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
John Gardner Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Imagine moving to Mauritania, a West African nation, after being born in Glenwood Springs and living most of your life here.Try to understand the difficulty of having to learn the native language of either French or Arabic while finding a place to live and a job to support yourself. Not to mention a plethora of other, seemingly smaller issues that may be trivial to those who are accustomed to the culture.Just finding a helping hand for guidance is not easy in a world of strangers.

Now reverse the situation and imagine a group of native Mauritanians here in Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley, attempting to integrate into the culture. How difficult it would be for them to join the community with no one offering a helping hand.”People don’t know about us,” said Mamadu Nian, a Mauritanian who has been in Glenwood Springs for five months. “To be in touch (with the community) and for people to know our concerns is one of our problems. Communication is difficult and without communication you can’t become part of the community.”It’s an issue Nian is hoping will see some resolution in the near future. And he’s got the helping hand of Walter Gallacher.Gallacher has become familiar with some in the West African community, like Nian, by teaching English as a second language at Colorado Mountain College. Through his interactions with them, Gallacher understands the importance of bridging the gap between the two cultures.”Not only do they need help in understanding the language but there are a lot of other areas as well where they need assistance,” Gallacher said.Friday, community members including Tom Ziemann of Catholic Charities and a handful of West African natives gathered at CMC’s Glenwood Springs Center to discuss the option of a community support team program spearheaded by Lutheran Family Services.Phil Gazley of Lutheran Family Services presented ideas and information on how the program works and the success he’s seen in Steamboat Springs and Silverthorne, which also have growing populations of West Africans.

“This is really about embracing a certain population within a community and providing them the assistance to achieve independence,” Gazley said. “The important thing is that we do this together, as a community, so it helps the community.”Gazley helped set up the programs in Steamboat and Silverthorne nearly five years ago. The program is designed to develop “teams” or groups of community members that can help the West African natives in understanding things like financial security, health care and insurance issues, and immigration assistance, to name a few.The idea is to work with the West Africans and understand exactly what they need assistance with, Gazley said. One of the challenges with the program is to avoid providing help in the wrong areas.”Often people of good will are eager to jump in and help without understanding what is really needed,” Gazley said. “We need to do what is right, so these people can become independent.”Independence is something that Mauritania native Alassane Anne would like to have here in the valley. Currently, Anne works at Wal-Mart and shares a two-bedroom apartment in Glenwood Springs with two others from Mauritania.”Health care is an important issue for us,” Anne said. “If you don’t have that, it’s not a good thing.”Anne said Wal-Mart provides health care benefits for him, but knowing exactly how to use it and how to set up medical appointments along with transportation needs are issues to be addressed by these integration teams.

“The good thing about having a team is the people involved have flexibility,” Gazley said. “One may be able to provide transportation, one can help with learning English, another might be able to discuss housing or employment issues.”Achieving self-sufficiency is the main goal for the program. The first steps have been taken; the next is to see if the community is willing to help and devise teams. If so, Gazley will return for a two-hour training session with interested team leaders and will remain in contact with them to monitor progress and assist in any way he can, he said. It’s up to community members as to what their level of involvement is, Gazley said.Nian said he hopes there will be a follow-up meeting. Gallacher believes the Glenwood community already has shown a positive level of interest.”We’ve already taken the first step,” Gallacher said. “The receiving community have indicated that they would be willing to do this.”Contact John Gardner: 384-9114jgardner@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.