Getting together for a better community
Citizen Telegram Editor
Bouncing basketballs and youngsters racing up and down the court at Davidson Park on 24th Street in Rifle may seem like nothing out of the normal for passers-by.
But there’s a message with the twice-a-month street basketball tournaments, organized by a two-month old group called Hispanic Alliance Colorado.
Executive Director Milton Rodas said the tournaments, held every two weeks on Fridays, include a free barbecue – with a message.
“We talk about how nice it is to get along,” Rodas said. “Sometimes some people can dress kind of scary, but once you get to know them, you see how nice they are. We tell them all how much we care and we stress how important it is to stay in school.”
The first tournament on Friday, May 9, featured 38 players and ten stuck around to help Rodas clean up the area. Four parents also attended to cheer their children on.
“Most of them were between 13 and 18,” Rodas said. “There were a couple that may have been in their early 20s with tattoos, but we didn’t push them away, either.”
One of the basketball players, Trevor Gee, 15, of Rifle, said he knew Rodas and just showed up at the tournament.
“I was very impressed how it went,” he added. “We had every culture show up and we were all just enjoying each other.”
Gee said he also heard a message that “we don’t have a bad situation in the U.S., that we should be grateful for what we have and be willing to help others in a worse situation.”
Another player, Luis Daniel, 17, said he liked the friendly competition the tournament produced and Nick Stanley, 15, said the tournament “helped keep people out of trouble on a Friday night.”
The alliance was formed in March and so far has reached out to about 350 kids, not all of them Hispanic, Rodas said.
“There are a lot of nonprofits out there, but we wanted something with the Hispanic name,” he added. “Our mission is to bring together the Hispanic and Latino communities. It’s hard to get along with people when you’re out of your comfort zone, so we try to find things we all have in common.”
Linda McCausland of Aspen helped get the alliance off the ground.
“I just think we should do what we can to welcome people to a community and help them partake of the good points of living in the U.S.,” she said. “I think people have a tendency to be isolated and there’s so many good things to be doing, once we get to know each other.”
McCausland added she thinks the alliance can offer and organize activities that get people together, instead of see some youngsters “get into things that aren’t so constructive.”
Rodas was born in Guatemala in 1983 and came to the U.S. in 2001. After three months in California, he moved to Carbondale, then Glenwood Springs and now Rifle.
The alliance plans an upcoming trip to Guatemala, from May 29 to June 12, to help build a home for a family living in the street and to enroll children in high school. Rodas said six area teenagers, mostly from Rifle, will make the trip and help build the home. Funding from a foundation – along with proceeds from local yard sales – made the trip possible.
“This family has no electricity, no water, nothing,” Rodas said. “Their homes are built with what they find in the trash, so we want the teenagers to see the difference between life there and here in the U.S. We want to show the reality step by step, and so they can see a real third world country.”
Another excursion planned by the alliance will see three groups of 10 teenagers from Aspen to Parachute attend one of three economic seminars. The four-day trips in June and July to Orange County, Calif.; Rome, Ga. and Grand Rapids, Mich. are also foundation-funded and will explain how the world economy works, Rodas said, as well as the importance of having checking and savings accounts.
Students from Grand Valley High School in Parachute may also attend one of the seminars, and McCausland added a foundation has helped expand alliance participation to high schools in Aspen, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Coal Ridge High School. Home schooled students have also been contacted regarding the seminars, McCausland said.
“These kinds of things can be life changing,” she added. “It’s also about investing in our future.”
Two other local activities are a golf program at Rifle Creek Golf Course, which is providing 10 scholarships for low income Hispanic kids, ages 7 to 11; and a soccer camp at Davidson Park for around 300 kids, ages 7 to 14, for about a month in June and July.
“At the end of the camp, we want to have a big barbecue and present medals to the players that work hard,” Rodas said. “Our goal is to show parents the importance of being involved with their children’s lives, and teach the kids that if you work hard, you get rewarded. Everything they do in life will require hard work.”
“We want to make them realize that life in the U.S. is not just a gimme or a hand out,” Rodas added. “We want to show them what they get when they do something.”
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Rifle City Manager Scott Hahn plans to transition out of his position over the next several months, according to a city of Rifle news release.