Immigrant advocate leaving town
Since she became Eagle’s County immigrant advocate a year ago, Allison Kercher has seen 600 clients and has assisted them with immigration, employment and discrimination problems – among dozens of other issues.
But Kercher, 26, is looking for a replacement because she and her husband are leaving their Edwards home at the end of the month to teach English at a university in Mexico.
“More people are now aware of the services we provide, so when the next person comes in, she will have a good base,” Kercher said.
The program, which began in May, 2002, is sponsored by Catholic Charities and Eagle County, which pitched in $25,000 for the position.
“Allison did things that other organizations wouldn’t have been able to do,” said Tom Ziemann, local director of Catholic Charities. “This advocate takes care of the immigrants who fall through the cracks. For example, it takes care of what the county’s social services can’t do.”
“Sometimes,” he said, “there are other issues that don’t fall in the traditional social services.”
Most of Kercher’s consultations have been about immigration and employment – particularly employers not paying wages and worker’s compensation disputes.
People also have sought legal advice, emergency services and translation, Kercher said.
“Immigrants have unique needs and struggles,” Ziemann said. “Especially, when it comes to mediation (like with their employers or landlords). It’s very useful to have a neutral third party to help with the cultural barriers.”
Ziemann said he is pleased with the results of the program’s first year.
“I think we dealt with 455 different households and those are pretty good numbers,” he said. “Also you need to take into account that a lot of immigrants didn’t stay for the summer last year, because of how the economy was.”
When she started her job, Kercher’s title was Hispanic community advocate. But after getting to know the community, she realized that aside from Hispanics there were many Eastern Europeans and Australians in the valley, so she changed her title to “immigrant community advocate.”
Ziemann said he is looking for a full time person to replace Kercher – preferably someone with a college degree who is bilingual.
“It was difficult to find someone last time, we had to look for several months,” Ziemann said.”We hope that the county will continue to be a partner in this program, but we’re developing other funding sources.”
Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone said Kercher did a great job developing the program.
“She also did a great job with outreach to the community,” he said.
Kercher offered an orientation program on how to live in the U.S.
The goal was to introduce newcomers to American culture, help them understand what kind of behavior is tolerated and make them aware of the resources available as they settle in to the community.
“My legacy for the next advocate is that she focus on doing more orientations,” Kercher said. “For that she’ll need more involvement from local businesses.”
One of her only disappointments was the weak response from local businesses to her program, she said. Although she sent letters to most hotels in the valley offering the orientation program, only the Vail Cascade Resort, the Beaver Creek Park Hyatt and Cordillera signed up for the free, one-day program.
“I think the ones I did were successful, people got a lot of information,” she said.
Ziemann said the orientations are a hard sell, but business owners should understand it’s for their own benefit.
“One of the results of the orientations is that employees become more productive,” he said.
County Commissioner Michael Gallagher said Kercher will be hard to replace.
“She leaves a big empty,” he said.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.