Integrated Community training volunteers |

Integrated Community training volunteers

Despite a low number of volunteers, Integrated Community will hold its first training session July 19 at Colorado Northwestern Community College.

Integrated Community, or Comunidad Integrada, is an organization that sets up volunteers with immigrants in hopes of integrating the immigrants into the community.

Volunteers are asked to help immigrants learn the culture and help them start to speak English. Volunteers sign up for 12 weeks and meet with their immigrants for an hour and a half each week.

“With language, (immigrants) have greater access to services and can give back to the community,” said Summer Laws, the director for integrated community.

Volunteers are paired with immigrants based on how much of the other’s language they know. People with no foreign language skills also are encouraged to volunteer.

The class at CNCC will explain to people how to structure their time and go over some of the cultural differences. Anyone can attend to see what the program entails and then decide whether they want to participate, Laws said.

She said at least 10 volunteers are needed to start a program in Craig. So far, about nine people have expressed interest, and four are attending the class.

Integrated Community started in Steamboat Springs in December. Since its conception, Laws said the group has had 45 people volunteer in Steamboat, and the response has been positive so far.

Karen Goedert, a volunteer and board member, said she went to Mexico for five weeks last year to learn Spanish. When she got back, she said she started taking Spanish classes but said they were “painfully slow.”

Integrated Community provided her a way to keep learning Spanish and make friends as well.

“It was helpful for me to get into that portion of our community,” she said. “It was very helpful to keep my mind in that foreign language mindset.”

Lynn Bear, another volunteer, said she has learned as much from the immigrants as she has taught them. She also thinks it makes the community look good.

“I think it’s an opportunity for our community to show the world that people in our community can get along,” she said.

Although the commitment is for only three months, Goedert and Bear have stayed on for six months. They said they have made lasting relationships with the immigrants that they probably wouldn’t have without volunteering for Integrated Community and recommend the program to anyone.

“I learned more about the culture of Mexico and made some friends I probably wouldn’t have met,” Bear said.

Although the program has taken off in Steamboat, Laws said the response hasn’t been as strong in Craig. She said she has had a lot of people who are interested but are unsure about volunteering.

“(People) get intimidated about the idea of teaching,” she said. “We’re natural teachers; we’re teaching every day.”

The bottom line, Laws said, is there is a need in Craig for Integrated Community, and without volunteer support, a much-needed service may not be provided.

“I just think it’s so important in so many ways,” she said. “You’re not just providing English classes, you’re serving as a cultural liaison.”

Anyone who has questions about the program or would like to attend the training session should call Laws at 846-5521.

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