What are the needs of the county’s Latino community? | SummitDaily.com

What are the needs of the county’s Latino community?

by Amanda Roberson

SILVERTHORNE – Even though Summit County’s Latino community has grown significantly over the last few years, county residents still don’t have a clear understanding of the community’s needs or if those needs are being met.

To get some answers, the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) is working with a Denver nonprofit organization on a needs assessment of the Latino community over the next few months. The project is funded by a grant from the Summit Foundation.

Currently, there is no data about the county’s Latino population other than counts of English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual students from the school system. This lack of data becomes a problem when writing grants that ask for statistics, said FIRC director Kristy Price.

“Our goal is to be able to identify and prioritize issues and give information to the community,” Price said. “We want to be able to say “Latinos in the community have said this is a need.'”

The first phase of the three-month project started with a brainstorming session Tuesday night to identify key issues. Numerous sectors that work regularly with Latinos were represented, including education, mental health, private foundations, law enforcement, employment services, construction, child care, youth and family services and Summit Prevention Alliance.

Stephen Stewart, evaluation center coordinator for the Latin American Research and Service Agency (LARASA), led the group of about 28 people. LARASA is a Denver nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health, education and self-sufficiency of Colorado’s Latino community. Stewart will work with FIRC on the needs assessment project; he plans to have data ready in September.

Breaking up into small groups, community representatives developed lists of the top five issues they see affecting the Latino community. Education, legal status, health care, language barriers and child care were among those issues that topped the list.

Stewart will review information from the brainstorming session to analyze and prioritize issues before beginning the next phase of the project – interviews of Latino community members. The IRC plans to interview Latino groups, such as mothers groups and construction-worker groups, and go door to door in Latino-concentrated areas like the Sierra Madre and Blue River apartments.

Stewart said he was impressed with Summit County’s initiative, and hopes other resort communities will follow suit.

“This is a groundbreaking pioneer effort of the community to work for changes. It’s unusual that a community that’s had massive changes in its population would get together and say, “What can we do?'” Stewart said.

Each community member brought up issues encountered in his or her work.

Eric Aaholm, diversity coordinator for Mountain Mentors, said language and communication problems are the primary issues he encounters while talking with parents and kids.

“It’s a two-way street,” Aaholm said. “We need to improve language skills for Latinos, but also for ourselves. Communication benefits the whole community.”

Juan Carlos Gutierrez, an adjustment coordinator for the Work Force center and the FIRC, agreed language barriers present a problem.

“We need to develop the ESL program further, but it has to be a priority both ways,” Gutierrez said. “Employers can also make an effort to speak some Spanish.”

For Summit School District ESL coordinator Sarah Cox, diversifying the ESL curriculum was a primary concern.

“We’ve got to offer classes in a level of English kids can understand, but challenging content so they don’t get bored,” Cox said.

Once it’s complete, the needs assessment program will provide a baseline for the Summit Foundation and other community groups to assess how existing programs are working and decide which new programs are necessary.

“We’ve heard a lot of nonprofit organizations saying the needs of the community are changing because the composition of the community is changing, but we wanted to know what exactly that means,” said Deb Edwards, Summit Foundation executive director.

“I came away (from the meeting) with a better awareness, and I think it’ll be interesting to hear what the Latino community has to say too.”

Who to Call

To voice an issue you think is important to

Summit County’s Latino community, call Patricia Cruz, needs assessment project coordinator, at (970) 470-3791, or the FIRC main office at (970) 262-2472.

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