Efforts to build community start with a single word
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A sticker making the rounds among the Gunnison Valley, which says “welcome” in numerous languages, is pictured here.
A sticker making the rounds among the Gunnison Valley, which says “welcome” in numerous languages, is pictured here.

Folks in the Gunnison Valley may have noticed brightly colored stickers cropping up around town containing unfamiliar words such as “velkommen,” “lafia,” “merhbe” and “karibuni.” Although unfamiliar to many, each word comes from a language spoken by the people who live here — and the list keeps growing.

But where did the sticker get its start?

The idea for a “welcome” sticker didn't come from thin air. The message has its roots in the One Valley Prosperity Project (OVPP) — a planning effort that began in early 2015 with extensive community engagement through the Community Builders Task Force. Members included the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley, Gunnison County, the City of Gunnison, towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, Western Colorado University and Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

“That little word ‘welcome’ may be the foundation on which a community can truly thrive,” explained Maryo Ewell, director of Community Impact for the Community Foundation.

One of the four action areas identified within OVPP includes “Community Health and Equity.” The main mission is to provide ways for immigrants to integrate into the community by creating more opportunities for engagement. The initiatives within the action areas including the stickers and other ways to welcome are housed in what’s called the One Valley Many Voices project.

Ewell said there are several elements of a welcoming community that could help with the goal of integration. Specifically, the Basic Needs Committee

within OVPP agreed there was a need for more formal and informal opportunities for immigrants to get involved, she said.

These realizations gave rise to the One Valley Many Voices project, from which the idea for the sticker was born.

For example, there is a greater need for immigrants to interact with elected officials, law enforcement and other agencies so that they can understand how things "work" in their new home.

In that vein, Ewell pointed to current opportunities within the Center for Adult and Family Education (CAFE) program at the Gunnison Library. They include driver’s license classes in Spanish carried out with assistance from the law enforcement community. Also, CAFE has a series called Dine and Discuss With an Officer where immigrants can ask questions of law enforcement officers.

“This is not only a goal about respect for people, but studies show that the health of people is — quite literally — better if people feel that they belong in the community,” said Ewell.

On the Basic Needs team are representatives from Gunnison County Health and Human Services (including the Multicultural Resources Center), Gunnison Valley Hospital, the Gunnison Police Department, the Sheriff's Office, the Hispanic Affairs Project, the Gunnison Public Library, the Gunnison Country Food Pantry, Mountain Roots, the Community Foundation and the faith community.

Pastor Wendy Kidd of the United Church of Christ in Gunnison has lived in the valley for the past three years. Kidd worked with the Basic Needs Committee on not only fostering an environment of engagement, but also with issues of social justice, safe and adequate housing and access to healthy food.

For Kidd, the Gunnison community offers a sense of welcoming she hasn't found elsewhere.

“There’s something unique about the community here and the way it welcomes a stranger,” said Kidd. One of the more beautiful things about the community is how we come together despite diverse opinions and views, she said.

“The sticker reflects all that,” added Kidd.

The next step for the One Valley Many Voices project includes developing yard signs with a similar message in the spring with the hopes of having stickers and signs showing support in yards and windows of all residents.

“It's my opinion that it's the bonds between neighbors that pull communities through tough times,” said Ewell. “This may be the most important time ever to simply say ‘welcome’ to one another.”

 

CONFIRMED LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN THE GUNNISON VALLEY

Amharic (Ethiopia), Cantonese, Cora, Czech, Danish, English, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Mandarin, Nepali, Polish, Russian, Sarah (Chad), Swahili, Spanish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Wolof (Senegal) species.

 

WHERE TO FIND A STICKER

> The Gunnison Country and Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chambers of Commerce.

> E-mail maryo@cfgv.org with your mailing address or the physical address of your business if you would like a sticker sent to you.

 

(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or kate@gunnisontimes.com.)