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CO: Bridging the gap to achieve a healthy local community

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Durango could possibly be considered one of the greatest places to live. It's a small town with an active community nestled in a beautiful location, which is precisely why so many of us have chosen to live here.

Durango is a town full of transplants - a place that people from all over the world have chosen to call home. Having moved here from somewhere else, we can likely recognize that moving to a new place can sometimes be scary and overwhelming. It can create discomfort as we get exposed to the local routine and it presents the challenge of getting basic needs met, such as learning to drive in the snow or finding housing we can actually afford. Many succeed, however, many more face the added challenge of not being able to communicate their needs to others.

Although a person can speak the basics of English and strive to further their skills, mastering the technical terminology involved when getting deeper into the constructs of speaking the English language takes years of practice. Language barriers can cause fear and confusion for English language learners who seek medical attention, legal advice, a place to live or work or basic tools for navigating the human service sector.

Local providers are well aware of these challenges and recognize that "limited English proficient" people in La Plata County have limited access to services because of the lack of available and trained interpreters.

On Sept. 24 and 25, the La Plata Unity Project addressed this gap by hosting a 16-hour orientation for multilingual groups. The main goal of the training was to increase capacity among providers in order to provide culturally competent interpretation services to clients with limited English.

The training, facilitated by an experienced professional interpreter, cultivated confidence levels among local interpreters and helped to standardize interpretation services among providers. The 18 participants left the training empowered by the fact that they provide a valuable service and should be recognized as they obtain a valuable and significant skill.

This training is just an example of the activities brought to our community by the La Plata Unity Project. The Unity Project is a local collaboration of organizations and individuals who are committed to creating a place to live where everyone has the opportunity to achieve their potential. Through a four-year Colorado Trust grant, the collaboration is helping to empower the many diverse people who live in La Plata County.

In its first year of implementation, the Unity Project has supported opportunities for bringing people together through bilingual movie nights, formal training programs, expanded ESOL - English for Speakers of Other Languages - classes forming a cross-cultural softball team, and more.

The Unity Project has created opportunities to learn each other's stories. A person is like a book, until you take the time to read the words and learn the story, you have only preconceptions of what it contains. Through our interactions, we have come to see more fully how we are unique, but also how at our core, we share common human values. We are growing together and we are creating the communal story of humanity.

The number of locals who share in this belief and want to contribute to creating a positive change continues to grow. The La Plata Unity Project has more than 100 members including a volunteer interpreter-translator pool of 40 individuals representing three different languages.

La Plata Unity Project aims to connect those in need to the available resources that local organizations have worked hard to procure. Through events like the two-day interpreter training, the La Plata Unity Project can help bridge gaps and pave the path to a more unified and healthy community where all individuals have the opportunity to contribute their skills and access resources.

Crystal Harris is the coordinator and Grisela Picasso the outreach coordinator for the La Plata Unity Project. To reach them, volunteer or get more information regarding The Unity Project e-mail or visit the Web site

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