Aspen foundation looking to increase support for Latinos | AspenTimes.com

Aspen foundation looking to increase support for Latinos

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

How about a 96 percent success rate?

That’s the percentage of high schoolers who went to college after attending a University of Colorado program designed for students from families without a history of university attendance.

So far, the Pre-Collegiate Academic Preparatory Program has been limited to students on the Front Range, but it may be offered soon in the Roaring Fork Valley thanks to the Aspen Valley Community Foundation.

If the foundation’s board of directors approves funding for the CU program at its meeting this week, Hispanic students attending middle and high schools between Basalt and Glenwood Springs will have an opportunity to receive specialized instruction throughout the school year and attend summer studies at a college campus.

Participants and their parents will attend daylong seminars once a month on weekends throughout the school year to learn study methods and other academic skills, discuss testing and college admission requirements and receive financial advice about saving for college tuition.

High schoolers also attend summer school at one of CU’s campuses – living in the dorms, attending classes and familiarizing themselves with an upcoming phase of their lives.

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“So far, we haven’t lost anybody,” said CU’s Chris Pacheco, who has been with the program for 12 years. “We get the usual complaints about going to school in the summer, but the friendships they develop seem to keep them interested and help them stick with it.”

The academic preparedness program serves about 3,000 students from Boulder to Pueblo each year. “I’d say in 18 years we’ve been in existence, we’ve sent about 96 percent of our students on to college,” Pacheco said.

Pacheco said the program has remained on the Front Range primarily for logistical reasons – college campuses are few and far between in western Colorado. But at the urging of CU Regent and Aspen-area resident Gail Schwartz, and with the financial backing of the Aspen Valley Community Foundation’s Latino Community Investment Initiative, it appears likely that students in the Roaring Fork Valley will receive the same benefits.

“By helping to support kids who have challenges with school, we hope to improve the educational experience for everyone,” said Ellen Freedman, the community foundation’s executive director.

In an interview last week, Freedman said she believes the 3-year-old Latino Initiative has “turned the corner.”

A series of meetings over the past several months with local members of the Hispanic community and others who work with them have expanded the focus of the initiative to include support for organizations that promote education and leadership. Three new beneficiaries of the foundation’s largess include the CU program; La Mision, the nonprofit Spanish language monthly newspaper; and Latino-Americanos Unidos, a nonprofit established in 1998 to address issues facing valley Latinos.

La Mision and Latino-Americanos Unidos are run by Latinos. Both are major sources of information – La Mision with its monthly 12- to 16-page publication, Latino-Americanos Unidos with its weekly radio program on Carbondale’s KDNK. Latino-Americanos Unidos hosts events around the valley showcasing music, art and culture of the Latino community, and is also starting a youth program meant to motivate teens to graduate high school.

Throughout its first year and a half in business, La Mision has been a one-man show, starring Luis Polar. Polar has held as many as two other jobs while also serving as the paper’s editor, reporter, ad director and spokesman. If the community foundation board approves the money, it will allow Polar to drop his other work and make the paper a full-time enterprise.

“It will allow me to spend more time in the community and at the office,” he said. Eventually, he would like to make La Mision a twice-a-month publication.

The Latino Initiative, in its third year, is an annual fund-raising program run by the Aspen Valley Community Foundation to support programs that help the area’s sizable Hispanic community interact more successfully with Anglos.

The Latino Initiative is different than many other philanthropic efforts in the valley in two ways. All the money raised is passed on from the community foundation to the nonprofits, and it is earmarked specifically for operational expenses, such as payroll, supplies and equipment purchases.

This year the community foundation expects to commit about $200,000 to the organizations named above and to other groups – Family Visitor Program, Literacy Outreach and Latino Youth Camp – that have received support in the past.

Family Visitor Program connects counselors with families that have a newborn and may need assistance finding the community support and resources that many people take for granted. The funding from the community foundation last year paid for a director of development, office rent and the expansion of the organization’s programs.

Literacy Outreach is a program designed to help illiterate or otherwise challenged adult residents of Garfield County learn to read and write. Eighty percent of the program’s clients are Latino, many of whom can not read or write their native Spanish. The community foundation support last year allowed Literacy Outreach to hire an additional staff member, purchase badly needed office equipment and expand its volunteer base significantly.

The Latino Youth Camp, paid for by the foundation and run by A GrassRoots Aspen Experience, took about two dozen high school-aged Latinos into the wilderness for five days last month. It is rapidly becoming one of the most successful programs of its kind in the valley, with parents of graduating campers recruiting the next class.

“We’re still meeting with people about the initiative,” Freedman said. “If anyone wants to share their ideas, they should feel free to call me.”

The Aspen Valley Community Foundation’s phone number is 925-9300.

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