Valley Settlement Project
Solution Story from Roaring Fork Valley
The Valley Settlement Project began in 2011 as a project of the Manaus Fund, which received a planning grant to look into the needs of the immigrant population in the Roaring Fork Valley. The driving force of the project was an interest in racial equity and the large achievement gap between the immigrant population and the dominant anglo population in the area. Using a community organizing approach, the first phase of the Valley Settlement Project was speaking with immigrant families.
Families were invited to talk privately to share their stories with bilingual organizers who were representative of the population. They made sure to work with organizers who were able to engender personal relationships, felt safe and trustworthy to interviewees, looked and sounded like interviewees, and were genuinely interested in listening. Their focus was to ask people what they needed, and to listen first and foremost. They spent a year asking and listening to individuals tell them their stories, going directly to the places where the immigrant population congregated (frequently the church). One-on-one interviews with 270 families found that immigrants had multiple barriers to settling in the Roaring Fork Valley. Many individuals and families were unconnected to schools, services, jobs, and opportunities. Fear, poor public transportation, a lack of understanding or warm welcome from schools increased their sense of isolation.
They also interviewed organizations in the valley who served low-income populations. These organizations mainly reported that while they wanted to provide services to the immigrant population, they couldn’t connect with the community, and didn’t know “where to find them”. Valley Settlement found that these organizations largely had no awareness of transportation barriers, language barriers, and other challenges these families face. It became evident that no organization in the community was systematically reaching out to welcome and engage immigrant families with young children.
After discussions with families, Valley Settlement was careful about following through promptly and thoroughly in order to meet their needs and provide the services they had asked for. For example, many families said that they wanted to learn English. Valley Settlement found out more about what their barriers were; many couldn’t afford to go to the local college, registrars often don’t speak Spanish, most payments are required online and families don’t always have access to internet/bank services, and many did not have access to transportation. In order to make English language classes more accessible, they brought teachers into their community and provided classes for a very small cash fee. By identifying and removing barriers quickly for the families, they were able to build trust and community.
Valley Settlement Project reports that those they serve in Roaring Fork Valley are now more engaged in their children’s education, can talk to their children’s teachers, have more self-confidence, are investing in their own education, and have reported improved parenting skills. They have demonstrated positive outcomes through evaluation data that is continually collected. The data shows how people have increased their social connectedness to other organizations, people, schools, health centers, and so forth.
Advice on Replication
Valley Settlement is approached often regarding replication of their project, and they always advise organizations to listen to a community before deciding what programming to provide, and then build a project from there.
People don’t form social connections when they’re afraid. People have to be respected and heard, and they know what’s going to help them. Don’t assume anything.
– Elaine Grossman, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Valley Settlement