STEAMBOAT SPRINGS -- On Thursday, members of the law enforcement, religious and social service communities gathered at Hayden High School to talk about the exponential growth of the area's immigrant communities. Twenty-five people attended and the discussion went on for more than three hours.
Those who attended were from Routt and Moffat counties, and that's where the conversation began.
"Moffat is in a different place with this issue than Routt County," said Susie Clark, coordinator of the Social Emotional Early Development project at Steamboat Mental Health. "Maybe we should separate the two in our discussion."
Summer Laws, organizer of the Intercambio Spanish English conversation group agreed but responded, "(Routt County) will be where (Moffat) is in a few years. Now is the time to be proactive."
Laws, who works as a landscaper and painter, has organized activities in her spare time for members of Steamboat Springs' Hispanic community. She started a weekly conversation group that meets at Epilogue, helped organize the first Mexican Independence Day celebration and has found herself acting as an interpreter and advocate for many Spanish speakers.
From first-hand experience, she has seen the Hispanic community and its needs grow, she said. "There are so many things people ask me for that just aren't here. I can only volunteer so much.
"I see a need right now. It's here, and we need to act so we don't end up like Summit County, acting in crisis mode."
People such as Laws know that the numbers are increasing but no one has exact figures. Several of the new immigrants are undocumented and others merely slip through the cracks of the census.
According to the Yampa Valley Community Indicators Project 2002-03 Report, the Hispanic population of Routt County increased by 0.7 percent between 1990 and 2000, but English as a Second Language numbers of Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus in Steamboat increased 506 percent from 1999 to 2002.
"The Hispanic community in Steamboat Springs is really hidden," Laws said. "They work in the back of restaurants and on construction sites.
"They are not just living in Craig and working here. They are living here."
Laws and Cody Reed, who is employed as the bilingual cultural mediator for the SEED project, have begun discussion of a separate organization that would serve just the immigrant community. Part of the meeting's purpose for Reed and Laws was to gauge the need of such an organization.
Though much of the discussion was about the Hispanic community, Reed said that her interest in immigrants also includes the area's West African, Eastern European, Asian, Jamaican communities.
The informal meeting was facilitated by freelance consultant Maro Zagoras. Reed met Zagoras when she facilitated a meeting for First Impressions. Reed approached her at the end of the meeting and asked her to facilitate a discussion of demographic changes in Northwest Colorado.
Zagoras lives in the Roaring Fork Valley and watched the demographic change first hand in her community.
"For you, this is just starting. You have just begun to recognize the shift," she said. "Most towns had this same moment years ago, and their communities are very different now.
"I'm curious to know myself what will happen here. If you escape this trend, I will be really surprised."
The group scheduled another meeting to discuss how they will meet the needs that were identified Thursday.
The next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 10 and is open to the public. For more information, call Cody Reed at 879-2141, ext. 27.