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Voces Unidas Takes Matters Into Its Own Hands With New Program To Help Latinos Impacted By COVID-19

Walter Gallacher
Jasmin Ramirez, a program coordinator with Voces Unidas de las Montañas, shares her story about the impact of COVID-19 with Senator Michael Bennet in a meeting this past September. "

The “Promotora Program,” created by Voces Unidas de las Montañas, is meant to assist Latinos in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The Latino-led group, which is based in Glenwood Springs, is hiring two bilingual promotoras, or “trained community navigators,” to lead the initiative until the end of March. Local linguist Liz Velasco, who runs her own language translation company and is certified in medical interpretation, will be the lead promotora and they’ll be announcing the candidate for the second position later this week.

The role of both promotoras is to help Latinos who test positive, or have been exposed, get access to care and navigate resources. 

“It means a lot for Latinas and Latinos, who in the past have never been in a position to be able to lead in our own communities, to be able to create programs that can serve our neighbors, or cousins, or our own families,” said Alex Sanchez, the Executive Director of the organization.

As part of the initiative, Voces Unidas will also be providing resources and financial aid to those who have lost work during the pandemic and who don’t qualify for government assistance because of their immigration status or other factors. He says most of the grant funding for the new program comes from several partners across the state, including the Colorado Health Foundation, El Pomar and the Colorado Latino Foundation.

“We're hearing from multiple sources and our community directly that people don't know where to go if they test positive or how to get financial services because there's just too many cases and not enough people doing this work,” Sanchez said. 

As a third wave of cases surges in the valley, he says the nonprofit decided to take matters into its own hands after learning that many Latinos were not getting the support they needed from the local counties.

“We feel given the circumstances and given the high percentage of disproportionate impact to our community that this is one way we could contribute to the larger ecosystem,” Sanchez said.

Even though about 30% of Eagle and Garfield counties are Latino, they make up a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases. As of Dec. 7, there are now over 2,600 confirmed cases in Garfield County and Latinos make up over half of those.

The same discrepancy is true in Pitkin County, where Latinos are about 10 percent of the population, yet account for more than 23% of confirmed cases in the last two weeks.

While Voces Unidas hopes to alleviate the situation by offering their own culturally competent, bilingual support to Latinos in the valley through the winter months, Sanchez says they aren’t trying to replace county services.

“We want them to be successful because if they're successful, it means that our community is going to be served by our government,” he said.

In the coming months, Sanchez says Voces Unidas will continue working with all three counties and encourage them to increase Latino outreach and bring in more Spanish-speaking and multicultural staff.

Eleanor is an award-winning journalist and "Morning Edition" anchor. She has reported on a wide range of topics in her community, including the impacts of federal immigration policies on local DACA recipients, creative efforts to solve the valley's affordable housing crisis, and hungry goats fighting climate change across the West through targeted grazing. Connecting with people from all walks of life and creating empathic spaces for them to tell their stories fuels her work.
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