Newsmaker: Christina Carlson strives for immigrant integration
December 20, 2005
DILLON – If you ask anyone, they’d say Christina Carlson is unbelievably outspoken.But hey, that’s how you make news. Carlson, the executive director of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) has done plenty to get in the paper in 2005.And some of the things she’s done have caused anonymous people to call and threaten her personally. Before the November election, she received about eight calls a week for three weeks. Callers asked if she was serving “illegal aliens” and said if she was, she was as bad as a drug dealer.”It became a personal threat,” she said. “They’d say, ‘We know where you live, and we know where you work.'”But that didn’t deter Carlson. She simply answered, “We serve people who live in Summit County, and we don’t have the resources to track documentation. If someone comes in and they need food, they get food.”
FIRC’s progressCarlson started 2005 off by meeting with about 175 community leaders, immigrants, social service providers and educators at the Silverthorne Pavilion to talk about the challenges and opportunities immigrants encounter in Summit County. They discussed barriers to integration, language problems, high costs of living, lack of childcare and difficulty in attaining information about available services. The meeting began a communitywide immigrant integration process, which FIRC sponsors, and a $400,000 grant from The Colorado Trust funds.From there, Carlson spent all year creating an integration plan, which aims to develop an increased sense of integration among all residents. Three subgoals are: support, education and employment opportunities that are accessible to all community members; greater understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity in the county; and a strong leadership base that promotes cultural integration through long-term policies.Now she and 12 other Summit County residents grace the cover of The Colorado Trust’s immigrant integration brochure. But that’s only the beginning of Carlson’s plan to show the different faces of Summit County. A 15-minute DVD she helped produce shows diversity to a wider audience.”The plan is about how do you develop community attachment in a rural resort community,” Carlson said. “I believe one of the byproducts of community attachment will be a sense of integration of all residents. Ideally, this plan creates a sense of community, particularly among our immigrant population.”
To further the goal, the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation honored FIRC with its outstanding nonprofit award and gave the organization a total of $75,000 throughout the next three years to use for program expansion and capital development.”(FIRC has) increased not only income but also voluntary support,” said Tom Kaesemeyer, the foundation’s executive director. “They have a strong board, and the counseling is geared toward getting people on their feet and managing their own affairs.”FIRC serves 8,000 to 10,000 people a year and also partners with other human service agencies. In September, it expanded its parenting programs so all parents could benefit, regardless of income. It took over the parents as teachers model from social services and now offers home visits, which provide resources and information about different stages of child development, up to age 5.Carlson not only supports community members, but also her employees within FIRC. She hired Patricia Cruz to run the Families United program, and this year The Summit Foundation recognized Cruz as an outstanding professional in a nonprofit.”She always gave me the opportunity to be successful; she empowers people to be leaders,” Cruz said.And Carlson never seems to stop.
“She goes to every board and every place she can possibly go – even at a party, she comes back with $1,000 (donation for FIRC). It’s like she doesn’t have a personal life,” Cruz said, laughing.”I’ve worked hard to make sure people know who we are and what we do,” Carlson said. “My joke is that I never ask for money the first time I meet you, but I always do the second time – and it’s true.”And as far as her ability to be outspoken, she says:”I have an opinion, and most times I say it. But I try to temper my opinion into what’s important to the community.”