Integrated Community Brings Hope with the Help of Routt County02/10/2023 08:00AM ● By Suzy Magill
(Photo: Members of Integrated Community celebrate World Fiesta in 2019. Courtesy of Integrated Community.)
Steamboat Springs, CO - In 2004, a group of immigrants began meeting at Off the Beaten Path bookstore for conversation in English and Spanish. Almost two decades later, through the help of 75 stakeholders, Integrated Community, or CIIC - a play on their name in both Spanish and English - serves immigrants in the Yampa Valley from over fifty countries through navigation, interpretation and education.
In the nearly 20 years that the nonprofit has existed, executive director Nelly Navarro acknowledges that it has evolved and will always continue to do so.
“We always shift a little bit of what we do in response to community needs,” she says. “We always listen to clients.”
Navarro, who immigrated from Peru 17 years ago, began her work with the immigrant community as a medical interpreter and advocate for immigrants at the hospital through Northwest Colorado Health. Navarro’s own experiences with the challenges of immigration and obtaining United States citizenship allowed her to foster empathy and trust with those starting a new life in a new country.
Integrated Community’s recognition by the U.S. Department of Justice allows them to assist with immigration services such as citizenship, work permits, deferred action for childhood arrivals, travel documents, temporary protected status and family petitions. They are also able to help non-English speakers with medical, legal, employment and housing needs through their Resource and Referral Program. Their various education programs help anyone - from toddlers to adults - learn and practice English.
In 2016, Navarro noticed that more and more families were coming in with letters from school saying that their children were falling behind academically.
“Parents don’t speak the language so it was really challenging for them to help their kids read in English,” she explains. And, at $65 for an hour of tutoring, cost was often an issue. Since CIIC already had a platform to tutor adults, they expanded to offer the same services for school-aged children.
Community support for the nonprofit has grown just as fast as their services.
This past December, on Colorado Gives Day, Integrated Community received donations totaling $27,000 - up $2,000 from 2020. Navarro credits the increase in individual donations to a heightened awareness of CIIC’s work in the community.
“We have increased our individual giving by 18% this year, which has been huge. Our community is really involved and sees the impact we have,” says Navarro.
“Here in Routt County, we help the immigrant population, but it’s not alone,” says Jerry Hernandez, Integrated Community’s education coordinator. “We have to do it in conjunction with the rest of the community, and because of the nature of Routt County, you have a lot of allies that want to help.”
The increase in donations supported physical expansions for CIIC: recently they opened a new office in Craig while their Steamboat office underwent a transformative renovation.
While Integrated Community has been connecting with clients in Craig for years, the physical space, which opened in December last year, will increase their reach even further by bringing aid and opportunities to many more immigrants. Navarro is hoping that it will also bring new Latino leaders to the community.
Since February 2022, Navarro has been meeting with stakeholders and clients.
"We really wanted to hear from them,” says Navarro. “And they want that one-on-one connection. That’s really important, culturally. People want to see you.”
The renovation of their Oak Street office in Steamboat serves to create a more cohesive working environment. Prior to the renovation, three offices connected to an open space, but with seven people working, taking calls was difficult, as was finding privacy. Now, there are more offices, a waiting area, a children’s area, increased space for tutoring, a designated immigration office with a door and conference rooms.
“We want to provide our services with dignity, respect and confidentiality. People come to us because they trust us, but sometimes the issues they are dealing with are very sensitive. So we felt like it was hard to provide that when we were cramped in here,” Navarro explains. “Oftentimes families come, and they don’t want their kids to listen to the conversations happening. We are able to keep them safe.”
Integrated Community’s newest initiative is their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Workshops, five core workshops focusing on topics such as unconscious bias, cultural humility and race. The DEI workshops will break barriers between locals and immigrants and within the immigrant community.
“We’re seeing a huge increase in people coming from different countries,” says Hernandez. “They have their own adjustments to make, not only to this culture but how they work together or engage with each other, coming from what they come from and the experiences they’ve had.”
The first workshop will cover the topic of unconscious bias and how to interrupt it.
“We start with unconscious bias because it impacts everything else,” explains Hernandez. “You can’t start talking about diversity, equity and inclusion until you understand why we all have these unconscious biases and how they affect how we work with each other and how we treat other people.”
“We’re trying to bring cultural awareness to our community, and we see a lot of talent from a lot of immigrants,” says Navarro. “We have people moving here bringing so much talent and we would love to see more immigrant leaders stepping up to other roles.”
“Our ultimate goal is to bring hope to these people, and be that safe space where they can ask any kind of question,” says Navarro. “We are already seeing people that want to work with Integrated Community that were past clients. So that’s very empowering and inspiring to see. There’s so much giving in our community and we’re blessed to have that.”
To learn about Integrated Community, visit: https://www.ciiccolorado.org