Summit leaders kick off integration project
SILVERTHORNE – For immigrants, settling into a new community is filled with daunting challenges: securing a job, finding a place to live, enrolling children in school, learning a new language and navigating the legal system.As Summit County’s immigrant population grows, the imperative to ease their transition grows more urgent with each new arrival, according to community members who gathered Thursday night in Silverthorne.About 175 community leaders, immigrants, social services providers and educators sat down to plates of homemade tamales in the Silverthorne Pavilion to discuss the challenges and opportunities Summit County offers its immigrants.”We need to start embracing diversity as an asset in Summit County, not a problem,” said Silverthorne Police Chief Kent Donahue. “There are a lot of common themes people see as issues, and we need to start formulating strategies to tackle some of these things.”The meeting served as a kick-off to a communitywide immigrant integration process, sponsored by the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) in Dillon and funded by $400,000 in grant money from the Colorado Trust.
The vast room buzzed with voices speaking in six different languages as the meeting’s participants gathered in small groups and brainstormed Summit County’s strengths and challenges in immigrant integration.”People feel they can’t speak up for themselves without repercussions,” said Esteban Salazar of Frisco. “It’s dangerous. What happens in a domestic violence situation when a woman is afraid to speak up for herself?”Legal issues were high on the list of barriers to integration, as were language issues, the high costs of living and housing, difficulty obtaining information about services and lack of affordable child care.But immigrants and U.S. natives alike had plenty to say about what Summit County is already doing well to reach out.”In Summit County, I’m surprised how many people are welcoming us and asking questions about my country,” said Marek Kurc of Dillon, who came to the county from the Czech Republic. “Especially the young people from other states in the U.S. – they like to travel and want to know more about other places.”Many applauded the Summit School District and Colorado Mountain College for being especially welcoming to immigrants.
But they also felt the public school system is sometimes overwhelmed by the rapid growth of the non-English-speaking student population.Social services, transportation and employment opportunities emerged as common themes among the community’s existing strengths in integration.”All this information is great – it’s exactly what we were hoping for,” said Sarah Cox, who works with English Language Learners in the public schools.Many immigrants who attended the meeting appreciated the opportunity to share their perspectives and were excited about the project’s potential.”It’s very nice that people are taking the time and the money to help immigrants and understand what we need,” said Oumar Niang, originally of Mauritania in western Africa. “They’re asking us about a lot of things – health care, housing, language – and we are very grateful. We feel good about living here in Summit County.”
The project’s steering committee will spend the next few weeks compiling and analyzing data from last night’s meeting. The information will help shape a communitywide, four-year integration plan.Summit County is one of 10 communities in Colorado devising such plans.”Colorado is one of two states in the country taking on immigrant integration,” FIRC director Christina Carlson said. “Through this process, Summit County will be a model for other communities.”Those interested in participating in the immigrant integration project or sitting on its steering committee can contact Carlson at (970) 513-1170 ext. 304 or email@example.com.Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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