Valley lands new Hispanic advocate
Since May 6, Allison Ehlert, 25, of Edwards, is the new Hispanic Community Advocate in Eagle County. The $50,000 program is sponsored by Catholic Charities and Eagle County, which teamed up to fund it.Ehlert is spending her first weeks in the job assessing what the most pressing needs are in the valley. She’s interviewing members of the Hispanic community, business owners and law-enforcement agents.”Her qualifications lead me to believe that she can be a self-starter and help develop the program,” Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone said Monday.Ehlert, who arrived in the Vail Valley in March, studied Spanish in Oaxaca, Mexico, and in Granada, Spain. She also was part of the Peace Corps in Mongolia, where she taught English and did community development between 1999 and 2001.”I have a love for different cultures and helping people,” Ehlert said.As a community advocate, Ehlert’s duties will include:- Refer specialists.- Mediate disputes between employers and employees.- Teach cultural education programs, such as How to Live in America.”My role is to make cultures understand each other better,” she said.Tom Ziemann, director of Catholic Charities’ Western Slope, said many problems and obstacles immigrants face could be preventable if they only knew more about how things work in the United States.”People in foreign lands have always been victims,” said Ziemann, who arrived in the Valley two years ago after living in Germany, Italy and Turkey, where he worked as a social worker with the U.S. Air Force. After his experience abroad, he says, he understands the cultural shock immigrants go through.So far, Ehlert has identified the following issues:- Employers often don’t pay their employees what they had agreed to.- Law-enforcement issues, such as drunk-driving.- Lack of health insurance and childcare.”I wasn’t that surprised to find so many Hispanics in the valley because I knew there is a big hotel industry in the area,” Ehlert said. “But I was shocked that a position like this hadn’t been filled before where there is such a need.”Stone is calling the initiative a “pilot program.” He says he expects it will be copied in neighboring counties, which also have a large influx of Hispanics.”Our goal is that this program could facilitate a similar one in the other counties, part of the Rural Resort Region – Pitkin, Garfield, Summit and Lake counties,” he said.Ehlert, meanwhile, said the phone hasn’t start ringing yet, and she’s filling her phone book with specialists in the area after interviewing them. She’s planning to announce her presence in the valley after mass at St. Clare of Assisi.”My experience abroad will help me a lot because it gave me a broader perspective,” she said. “I’ve seen people who have a lot less material things that we have in the U.S. but who seem to be happier or more content than us.”In Mongolia, for example, people are nomadic and are used to live in a type of tent that they can quickly pack when they move to another place, she said.”They have a love for life and each other and not for things,” she added.Ehlert said she expects her work to bring communities together by helping people communicate.”I can translate to Spanish and English, helping not only the Hispanic but the Anglo community. I think there’s a lot of not understanding one another.”To enrich the program, Ziemann says he also plans to have some experts talk to the community -for example, somebody from the sheriff’s department to talk about domestic violence.Also, with the help of a $18,000 grant, Ziemann is organizing a low-cost immigration service out of Glenwood Springs.Catholic Charities helps more than 200,000 people in Colorado, with services, advocacy and community organizing activities.To contact Ehlert, call 949-0405. Her office is located in the River View apartments community center, 39169 US Hwy 6 & 24, AvonVeronica Whitney can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 454 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.