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Boulder County, United Way Look to Better Engage Latinos with Resilience for All Initiative

November 21, 2018

As the 2013 flood wiped away entire segments of communities in Boulder County, it uncovered a major in a gap in services for non-English speakers and, in particular, those of Latin descent.

In need of some hard data on which service providers could base structural changes, the Colorado Division of Local Affairs in 2016 funded a study that, after 21 focus groups and more than 260 written assessments, found that the vast majority of the Latino population in Boulder County is unaware of the government services designed to help them in times of need. It further found that if they are aware of services, they’re often so distrustful of authority figures due to recent reports of mass deportations, that they shy away from the opportunities to make use of them.

For example, during the 2017 Sunshine Canyon Fire in Boulder, Latino families refused to answer their doors when the police knocked at 2 a.m. to warn them of the fire because they were afraid it was an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid.

In reaction to this study, Boulder County and Foothills United Way this month joined forces to try and better engage the Latino population and build a foundation of trust.

Known as Resilience for All, the key to the initiative is training and hiring “cultural brokers” — people whose background and skills enable them to bridge two cultures and serve as an advocate or connector.

“Boulder County understands the critical role cultural brokers serve by providing connections between residents and service providers,” said Garry Sanfacon, flood recovery manager for the Boulder County Office of Resilience and Recovery. “The county is excited to learn from the network how to better recruit, retain, reward and recognize cultural brokers.”

Foothills United Way is working to create an online platform for residents to connect with cultural brokers, learn about the services available to them and get help navigating the bureaucracy.

As part of this program, United Way also is working on a community asset map to identify where services are available and recognize where services are lacking. A toolkit also will be made available to show service providers how to better serve non-English speakers.

“Some of the experiences we heard about when Spanish speakers went to get resources or access services when they were in need were that they felt shunned,” said Marta Loachamin, who coordinated the 2016 study. “It creates this gap and the informal network on the ground is saying ‘Don’t go over to XYZ organization because they aren’t kind or respectful or understanding.’”

While the 2018 Resilience for All initiative is a step closer to action than programs such as BoCo Strong and Better Together , which United Way and Boulder County started in 2013 to promote community-wide conversations about these issues, Loachamin said the long-term strategy must go a step further and involve hiring more diverse service providers to build a foundation of trust.

“I thought language was going to be the No. 1 barrier, and language came up in all the focus groups, but it wasn’t No. 1,” she said. “The most significant amount of data we collected was story after story of not being able to trust different organizations and institutions, so there’s an ongoing conversation about representation and being bilingual isn’t the same as being bi-cultural.”

Andrew Notbohm, an emergency management coordinator with the Boulder Office of Emergency Management, said that while the long-term goal is to have more diverse service providers, the first step is building a level of trust where underserved populations feel comfortable telling the providers what they need.

“This is learning process,” he said. “We’re currently going through a resilience capacity assessment to try and better engage the community and create better emergency support systems by building social capital. There has to be an understanding of common outcomes, and developing a trust with people so they’re comfortable saying here’s what our needs are and that when you can start to work together.”

John Spina: 303-473-1389, jspina@times-call.com or twitter.com/jsspina24

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