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Orientation a real education

Veronica Whitney

“I told him he needed to call 411, not 911,” Avon Police Officer Gus Pernetz says.

Pernetz was using the anecdote as an example of how confusing it can be to be a new resident in the United States. He was one of four guest speakers at a recent session immigrant orientation for Hispanic employees and Spanish speaking immigrants.

The five-hour session – held at Vail Cascade Resorts, where 25 percent of its 500 employees are Hispanic – was organized by Allison Ehlert, the local Hispanic community advocate hired this year by Eagle County and Catholic Charities.



“The idea of the orientation,” Ehlert said, “is to give new immigrants an idea of the American culture, an understanding of positive resident conduct and the resources available to them as they transition into Eagle County.”

The orientation, free for Cascade employees – who were also paid their hourly wages to attend – covered automotive, financial, legal, environmental and health issues. Topics ranged from wearing safety belts, drinking and driving and car safety to to domestic violence, child abuse and child care. Financial issues included bank services and checks and checking accounts. Health topics included prenatal care.



Other guest speakers included Sarah Schipper, nurse manager with Eagle County, Jane Wilkins, vice president of FirstBank in Eagle, Chris Evans of FirstBank and Kevin Roley, a doctor.

Although she’s been a resident of the Vail Valley for seven years, Manuela Aguirre, 44, a Mexican who lives in Avon, says she heard a lot of new things at the orientation.

“It was very useful,” Aguirre says. “The most interesting part was about domestic violence. I hear about a lot of cases of domestic violence in the Hispanic community, but people are afraid to call the police because they think the police won’t help them and then their partners will hit them again. The same happens with drugs. People are afraid to talk about drug dealers because they’re afraid of a retaliation.”



When there’s a violent domestic incident, Pernetz says, it’s best to call the police right away.

Ada Amaya, a 26-year-old of Silverthorne who has lived in Colorado for 11 years, says she learned that children 12 years and older can ride in the front seat of a car wearing a seatbelt.

“The orientation was very successful,” says Ehlert. “We had about 35 people. The first orientation at Cordillera, we had only 18.

“This week, I’ll be writing letters to the big hotels in the valley and (Eagle County Commissioner) Michael Gallagher has committed to sign the letters in support.”

Melissa McLoota, human resources manager with Vail Cascade Resorts, says the orientation is taking a proactive stance to prevent future problems.

“I think it’s important to integrate the Hispanic community with the community in the valley,” McLoota says. “It’s great to help them in a personal and professional level.”

The program is free to the attendees, but to ensure participation it is critical that local employers pay employees to attend, Ehlert says.

The next orientation will be in November at the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek. Ehlert is planning more sessions with the largest employers in the valley, including Vail Resorts and Marriott.

For more information, call Ehlert at 949-0405.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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