Goal is to connect “invisible population” with the area in which they work
By Cayla Vidmar
Multicultural Resource Services (MCRS) county coordinator Ellen Pedersen held an informational presentation to shed light on the immigrant populations who live and work in the Gunnison Valley.
According to Pedersen, there’s a disconnect between this population and employers, tourists, locals and the place they call home. The MCRS is attempting to foster this connection with outreach programs to employers and governmental agencies, along with new programs that connect this population with the natural beauty of Crested Butte.
“There’s a population that many people don’t know of out there and they’re providing services we benefit from,” said Pedersen during an interview. The MCRS is based in Gunnison, and its goal is “health equity through culturally and linguistically appropriate services for immigrants and limited English proficiency residents,” according to the 2017 annual report.
The MCRS is part of the Gunnison County Department of Health and Human Services, and primarily assists this population with access to public health services, translation for health appointments, informal health education, and advocating for community health needs.
According to its annual report, of the residents served, 84 percent were from Mexico (51 percent of whom were Cora Indians), and 16 percent were from Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. Information obtained from 202 adults in this group showed that 29.5 percent work in the city of Gunnison, 20.9 percent in Crested Butte and 25.9 percent work in both Crested Butte and Gunnison.
The transition to public outreach and the informational meetings with Town Council members is a first step to working directly with employers and entities in the Gunnison Valley. Carol Worrall, public health division director for Health and Human Services said, “I think the bulk of this is community outreach to help the community become aware of the MCRS and to connect the dots with employers and this broader group of employees.”
During the Town Council meeting in June, Pedersen shared insights that are difficult for non-immigrant and native English speakers to understand, saying, “There is a language barrier in general, and a more subtle thing is that people are not sure who they work for. They get a pay stub from Florida with a different company name on it but they’re working for a hotel here. So it’s hard for them to understand who their employers are.”
The disconnection deepens for this population. Pedersen and Worall explain that these groups typically do not get to enjoy the beautiful place they live and work, unlike their non-immigrant coworkers. “Many of these people don’t understand why there are so many hotels in Crested Butte, because they don’t get to see the beautiful mountains that we enjoy.” Pederson explained the obstacles many of her clients face when trying to get outside to the places many of us live here for, including transportation, and time and financial limitations.
“One of the things we’ve done is work with Western State Colorado University and different organizations to put together hikes so this population can enjoy nature here,” stated Pedersen. Recently, Gail Sovick, a former middle school teacher at Gunnison Middle School, took a group of older students on a hike to the peak of Mt. Crested Butte. Sovick explained, “Several of my students who are 17 and 18 years old had evening and weekend jobs working in Crested Butte. For all of the hours they spent cleaning hotel rooms, landscaping or washing dishes, they had never had the opportunity to experience what all of the other tourists come to Crested Butte to enjoy.”
This prompted Sovick to organize a group hike to the peak of Mt. Crested Butte with support of Crested Butte Mountain Resort, which supplied lift tickets to the students. “For these teenagers, riding a lift and getting to the summit was a unique and exciting experience, and one they don’t get to do every day,” writes Sovick.
As the MCRS continues to do outreach, more organizations are creating programs specifically for immigrant populations. The Crested Butte Nordic Center received grant funding to work with immigrant and limited English speaking communities this winter. Christie Hicks, executive director of the Nordic Center, said, “We look forward to offering translation services, equipment and lessons for groups through the MCRS and Immigrants Unidos. We are always looking for new ways to fulfill our mission and ensure that individuals of all ages and abilities have the opportunity to get outside and enjoy Nordic skiing during the winter.”
Pedersen explains the difficulty of offering these kinds of events and activities to immigrant and limited English speaking populations in the Gunnison Valley, saying that while hanging translated posters and signage is nice, it’s not enough. “It takes a lot of hand holding, and letting them know there’s something going on,” said Pedersen, which is why the community outreach from the MCRS is so important.
The MCRS is always looking for volunteer interpreters to assist in its work. To volunteer or for more information, contact Ellen Pedersen at EPedersen@gunnisoncounty.org or call (970) 641-7999.