Workforce center focuses on Hispanic population

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For local people who only speak Spanish, April Valencia is nothing less than a godsend.

Working in the position since November, the cultural diversity coordinator -- the newest member of Craig's Colorado Workforce Center -- has already seen the smiles when people realize she's here to help.

Valencia, 23, has far exceeded her goal of signing up new clients in the local community. And she's only just getting started to help bridge the communication gap between Spanish-speaking workers and English-only speaking employers.

"Just today I had four people come in who were ecstatic that someone could speak Spanish to them," Valencia said recently. "They were coming from California and needed information about jobs and applications."

Fluent in Spanish and English, Valencia offers clients a wide array services.

That may mean traveling to the worksite to provide on-site translation for workers and employers or translating via the telephone.

Valencia can provide potential workers with help in discerning labor laws to better help people find jobs. She can point clients in the right direction to access referrals to meet basic needs. Valencia will also soon offer basic computer classes in Spanish but her services could extend even further. She's available to help with many forms of translation which may include helping clients decipher a manual on how to earn a driver's license or the terms of renting housing.

"I urge people to come in and take advantage of anything they need," Valencia said. "There are a lot of people who need things translated who don't know where to go and what to do. We hope this will build stronger relationships with the community."

Valencia is stationed at the Craig Workforce Center but she's scheduled to spend Tuesdays at the Steamboat Springs location. She can travel to any of the state's other county-based Workforce Centers on an as-needed basis.

In a little more than four months, Valencia has almost met a goal she set for this summer. She's signed up a total of 80 new clients and well on the way to culling 100 new clients by June.

Craig's Workforce Center claims about 2,000 total new clients a year.

Valencia sees the surge of Hispanic clients as a reflection of Craig's changing demographic.

"I know a lot of people in the Hispanic community, but I still see new people daily," she said. "I think progressively (the community) is getting better step-by-step as far as people feeling safe here. The word is starting to get out that services are here."

According to figures from the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau 9.5 percent or 1,247 people were identified as Hispanic or Latino in Moffat County.

One of Valencia's clients, Isidro Quezada said the Spanish-speaking services are necessary for people looking for a job but don't want to burden friends or family to provide translation.

"It's tough for people to ask others to take time off to come and interpret," he said.

Monty Bond, the agency's manager is impressed by the numbers of people already seeking Valencia's assistance.

"In 90 days she's almost met the goals that were set for the year," he said. "We hope to see the numbers of people signing on here increase every year."

Valencia has traveled numerous times to Mexico, starting with a mission in Tijuana when she was a sophomore in high school. After graduating from Moffat County High School, Valencia spent time working various jobs and teaching English in Mexico.

With almost two years of experience in Mexico, Valencia said she fell in love with the culture, but also knows what's it like not be fluent in a country's native tongue. Valencia left the U.S. with a working knowledge of Spanish but became fluent through her experiences.

"It's terrifying when you don't know where to start to get help," she said. "I can't imagine living somewhere and not having a voice."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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