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Immigrant initiative focuses on improving communication

Communication is the key to understanding. In various guises, that was the message from more than 1,000 participants in the Community Integration Initiative. The initiative, funded by the Colorado Trust, asked people from Aspen to Parachute how to help immigrants adjust to and become a part of their adopted communities.The Colorado Trust’s $6.4 million Supporting Immigrant and Refugee Families Initiative targeted 10 Colorado communities, including Parachute to Aspen, to receive $75,000 annually over four years to develop and activate a plan to aid immigrants. The initiative comes in response to a growth of 160 percent in the state’s immigrant population over the past 10 years.”Increasingly, immigrant integration is being viewed as a two-way street that involves adaptation not only on the part of immigrants themselves, but also on the part of the community where they now live,” said Sandy Swanson, executive director of the Family Visitor Programs, which is the fiscal agent for the trust grant.Recently, volunteers met with 70 local groups, including high school classes, town councils, police departments, churches, chambers of commerce, human-services agencies and county commissioners. They also held five community meetings in Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Silt and Rifle.Results of those meetings – ways to integrate immigrants – were presented at a meeting Friday evening and all day Saturday at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.The recurring theme of the group meetings was communication. Besides the need for new immigrants to learn to speak English in order to understand the culture, many of the groups interviewed noted a parallel need for more people in our communities to learn to speak Spanish.Among the suggested ways to achieve widespread bilingualism were more Spanish and English language classes, more government and service agency information in Spanish, and bilingual staff at those organizations, at businesses and in schools.Government also needs to be more responsive to immigrants, said Parachute town clerk Juanita Satterfield.”We’re a culture of assistance and service. We need to make them aware this is what they get from our government. They need to be educated about how we provide services,” she said.Communities must also embrace immigrants: “We need to interact informally and socially,” said Harry Garner, a member of the New Castle Lions Club. “We should offer the Latino community a way to contribute to the overall community. They have a lot to offer.””One of the larger themes that came our of meetings in the schools, is how to change perceptions, how to involve parents, how to embrace differences, and how to get involved,” Swanson said.Different communities also have divergent views on immigrant integration.According to Susan Berdahl, contract manager for health and human services in Pitkin County, “When people talk about immigrants (upvalley) they’re talking about second-home owners.”She pointed out that back in the ’70s a booklet, “How To Get Along in the Roaring Fork Valley,” was compiled. Although it was aimed at helping “the hippies and ranchers get along,” it could be updated for today.Berdahl also met with the Pitkin County Commissioners who “were full of ideas … about how to beat down stereotypes,” such as getting word out to immigrants about government programs through radio shows and libraries.Libraries, Swanson said, put up barriers to immigrants by requiring photo identification cards and proof of residency that many immigrants do not have. They should be more accessible to immigrants.Not all the feedback was positive. Lucy Adams, director of the teen-parent program at Yampah Mountain High School, heard discontent in Parachute. “It is segregated and conflicted,” she said. “Latinos are blamed” for problems in the community. And there is real poverty among Latinos there. “Safe housing and health care is simply not being met. … Parents are working too many jobs.”Harry Garner noted that the community meetings were “preaching to the choir,” since they attracted people who are already concerned about the problem. “We need to get the broader community involved.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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