Language barriers

English-speaking volunteers needed

Language and cultural barriers for many immigrants in Steamboat Springs have long been a problem, but the challenges have become easier because of a program sponsored by Communidad Integrada.

Integrated Community is a program that helps immigrants learn about the town, local culture and language. The program asks for English-speaking volunteers to offer their skills to teach immigrants English and ways of American life.

Summer Laws, the director of Integrated Community, said anyone can be a volunteer.

"They just have to have the desire to do it," she said. "Basically the person just needs to speak English."

Volunteers come to a three-hour training session where they learn information about the program and people skills.

Once in the program, volunteers meet with English learners for an hour and a half each week for a three-month period. The meetings take place in a location suitable for both parties.

The program in Steamboat, which has more than 40 volunteers, has had success.

Laws said the program was started because there was a definite need for community integration. After researching, she found immigrants needed more information about classes, legal issues and the community in general.

One problem she found was the language barrier many immigrants initially face.

"Once the language barrier is crossed, the integration into society is much easier," she said.

Volunteers don't need any foreign language or teaching experience, and are actually paired with immigrants based on how much of the other language they know.

Although the commitment to the program is three months, Laws said volunteers often remain for longer.

Autumn Phillips, a volunteer in the program since January, helps teach English lessons to a couple, even though she knows very little Spanish.

"It was really intimidating at first," she said. "But now we're teaching each other and we've become friends."

Phillips started in the program because she personally saw a need to help immigrants get acclimated into society.

"I felt it was a good way for them to meet someone that lives here," she said.

With the success of the program in Steamboat, Laws has tried to bring the program to the Craig area.

Laws has talked with Sandra Duarte, an English as a Second Language teacher at Colorado Northwestern Community College, about the need for Integrated Community program in Craig. Laws said she has been told many members in Duarte's classes are interested in the program.

Unfortunately, Laws hasn't had enough volunteers in Craig who would like to participate in the program. She needs at least 10 volunteers to start a program in Craig, and as of now she has only four.

Laws said the program offers volunteers many rewards. Volunteers get to meet new people in the community, learn about their culture and begin to learn a new language, she said. The best thing, though, is the program not only teaches volunteers, but also becomes something they look forward to doing, she said.

"It's a lot of fun," Laws said. "People just have a great time with it."

Anyone interested in volunteering, or for more information should call Laws at 846-5521.

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