Stirring the valley’s melting pot
Immigrants from Mexico are welcomed to the Roaring Fork Valley to clean toilets, wash dishes and do the grunt work at construction sites.But they aren’t necessarily on the invitation list for the Anglos’ weekend barbecues.The barbecues might not ever happen, but a mammoth coalition of nonprofit groups from Aspen to Parachute is working to improve integration of Latinos and other immigrants.The coalition, comprised of more than 80 groups, scored a grant that could reach $305,000 to help the Roaring Fork Valley and Interstate 70 corridor become a better melting pot.A $5,000 grant has already been awarded to the coalition by The Colorado Trust to plot ways to help immigrants adapt to life in the United States and participate more fully in the communities where they live.Assuming that plan is good, the coalition will receive up to $75,000 annually for four years to implement the steps.The Colorado Trust received applications for grants from 43 communities in the state that have been heavily affected by immigration. Only 10 grants were awarded.The Aspen to Parachute region was selected, in part, because of the high rate of immigration. The immigrant population skyrocketed 283 percent in the region between 1990 to 2000, according to the trust’s analysis of U.S. Census data.In comparison, Colorado’s immigrant population grew by 160 percent during that same period. Those statistics don’t include illegal immigrants.The Denver-based trust is a grant-making foundation with the broad goal of advancing the health and well-being of state residents. It dived into programs to support immigrants in 2001 after Colorado’s demographics started changing so dramatically. “We’re always scanning and listening to the needs of the communities across the state,” said trust spokeswoman Christie McElhinney. “We didn’t think foundations were paying enough attention to this issue.”The Colorado Trust not only wants the grants to be used to help immigrants adapt to their new homes, it wants to help the communities become more welcoming.Steve Kaufman, a spokesman for the Aspen to Parachute group, said it is too early in the process to discuss how the coalition will try to encourage integration.The mission, he said, is relatively simple: “People [immigrants] are here, how do we live together?”The project isn’t meant to tackle tougher, broader issues. “This is not about federal immigration policy or any of that stuff,” he said.Coalition members have started their planning process by interviewing individuals, Anglo as well as Latino and other immigrants. Next they will interview small groups, such as the Aspen School Board and the Basalt Town Council. Eventually there will be communitywide meetings.Kaufman said the interviewers are trying to reach a cross section of the community – people with varying viewpoints.”We need to know how the people in the community feel,” Kaufman said. “There are people who don’t welcome immigrants and we need their point of view.”To accomplish the mission of integrating Latinos and other immigrants – as well as acquiring the grant – the plan cannot be something cooked up by a bunch of white people, Kaufman acknowledged. So the coalition has “good Latino representation,” he said.Of the 18 people who regularly show up for steering committee meetings, five are Latino, according to Kaufman.Anyone in the Aspen to Parachute area wanting more information or wanting to participate should contact Adriana Chavira, grant coordinator, at 379-4507.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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