Immigrant Advisory Committee shares subcommittee updates, challenges to carrying out BIC plan

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SILER CITY — The Immigrant Community Advisory Committee shared subcommittee updates and pinpointed community engagement as a major roadblock to achieving goals outlined in the Building Integrated Communities plan during its monthly meeting last Tuesday.

But first, several subcommittees reported a more immediate and short-term challenge: town staff turnover and unavailability.

Following former Town Manager Roy Lynch’s resignation, Siler City’s new manager, Hank Raper, will not start until about mid-May, human resources director Nancy Darden told the committee. Town clerk Jenifer Johnson, the Communication & Leadership subcommittee’s town specialist, has also resigned her post and will leave Siler City for Pittsboro around the end of April. Darden will temporarily assume her role.

“So that is the biggest report coming from our subcommittee as well,” Chairperson Hannia Benitez, a Communications & Leadership subcommittee member, told the committee. “ … On our part because of this transition, we (the subcommittee) have decided not to meet until June, the second week of June, right before our regular meeting.”

The Public Safety and Law Enforcement subcommittee has also been unable to schedule a meeting with Siler City Police Chief Mike Wagner to discuss the BIC plan, something which Darden promised to help them address.

“We’re kind of paused for a bit, because we don’t really know who to reach out to … because there’s a lot that we feel like we can do, but we also need to talk to Chief and see what is it that he would like to see more of that we can help with within the community,” subcommittee member Shirley Villatoro said. “But like I said, we’ve kind of just been kind of, like, at a stop, because we haven’t been able to make contact with anyone.”

The advisory committee’s five subcommittees include Communications and Leadership, Business & Entrepreneurship, Parks & Recreation and Youth Mental Health, Public Safety and Law Enforcement, and Housing and Public Transportation. Each holds up to three committee members, plus a town employee specializing in that topic.

All subcommittee topics derive from the town’s 44-item Building Integrated Communities action plan, which community leaders finalized in early 2019 to address immigrant residents’ needs based on information gathered during a two- to three-year community planning project. Residents may view it in full at unc.live/3Donqpl.

Yet, as the remaining subcommittees told the committee at large, engaging and involving the immigrant community poses a greater challenge to carrying out the BIC plan and achieving its long-term goals.

“I don’t think that is that our community doesn’t want to get involved, but I think our community has been known as, like, the sleeping giant,” member Victoria Navarro told the committee during her Parks & Recreation and Mental Health subcommittee report. “The Latinx community I think they’re just so used to … people don’t speak directly to them. They just kind of go with the flow. They work. They take part in the community in certain ways, but they’re not involved, so I think they almost need that handheld approach for the first couple of times to get them involved, to get them in the community, and they flourish on their own.”

Business & Entrepreneurship subcommittee members Norma Hernandez and Jisselle Perdomo found that this challenge had especially thwarted town- and county-level economic organizations’ attempts to include and serve local immigrant entrepreneurs.

According to their written report, one or both met with Siler City Downtown Advisory Committee member Richard Szary, Siler City Planning and Community Development Director Jack Meadows, and Central Carolina Community College Small Business Center Coordinator Phillip Pappas to discuss available resources, goals, challenges and ongoing efforts to address immigrant business owners’ needs.

One common thread of discussion? Latino and immigrant entrepreneurs’ lack of participation.

“I think what we gathered from talking to several people was just that they (CCCC) are offering small business classes there,” Hernandez told the committee. “... they’re offering (them) in Spanish, it’s free, it’s one-on-one, and they just don’t see a lot of participation from the Latinos or Spanish-speaking community. And so, we talked a lot about how it’s not language because it clearly is offered … in Spanish, but they just didn’t get anyone.”

The solution, she said, may be to take a “more grassroots approach” to marketing — meeting community members where they are as opposed to “advertising on the community college website only.” She cited School of the Arts for Boys Academy (SABA) founder Valencia Toomer’s efforts to increase Hispanic enrollment in her Pittsboro charter school as an example.

“What she did was she literally went out to all the Spanish-speaking churches, and that got some participation, because now, you know, it allowed a two-way conversation,” Hernandez said. “So parents were able to ask her, you know, ‘Well, what is it? What is SABA? Why would I want to send my kid there?’”

Beyond minimal participation, Hernandez also relayed a conversation with Pappas identifying other potential barriers some Latino entrepreneurs may face, including legal issues.

“Like, can they start businesses with just ITINs and EIN numbers, I think I saw? So, there was a lot of that discussion — and he didn’t know, either. This is probably more of a question for an immigrant accountant that could deal with some of that stuff,” she said. “ … As far as businesses, we have businesses. It’s legitimizing those businesses, and making them formal and helping them take advantage of all the opportunities that businesses are offered, like small business loans and special taxation.”

The Immigrant Advisory Committee will convene again on Tuesday, May 10 via Zoom at 6 p.m.

Other meeting business

• Siler City Elementary ESL teacher Alirio Estevez addressed committee members at the start of last Tuesday’s meeting, encouraging them to connect with CCCC’s vice president of workforce development, Margaret Roberton, about a workforce training program “that will benefit our Latino youth.” Roberton, he said, seeks input from Latino community leaders to make the program the best it can be.

“It will be a training that they wouldn’t have to pay (for) … and will provide them with a job after they finish their training — and the jobs are with good companies that will provide a good salary and good benefits,” Estevez said. “These are technological and manufacturing companies, and as you may know, our area is getting a lot of new companies. So that will be a good opportunity for our students, for our youth, to learn a trade, to get a good job if they don’t want to go to college.”

• A member of the Chatham Literacy Council board, Estevez also asked committee members to consider joining the literacy nonprofit’s board of directors.

“Most of our clients are female and Latinos, like over nearly 80%, but unfortunately, I’m the only Latino on the board, and I’m male, so we need more voices, female voices, Latina voices,” he told the board. “... We need perspectives from different people, and you will be a godsend voice in our board because we need to hear from you, people like you who know the community.”

Chatham Literacy also would like to expand its programming, including Spanish literacy classes, as well as financial literacy courses in English and Spanish. To ensure the expanded programming best meets the needs of those it’s designed for, Estevez said they’d like to gather more and diverse feedback.

“Some of our families have said that they want to learn Spanish because they don’t know how to read in Spanish, and they haven’t received any elementary or secondary education,” he said, adding, “Your insight and advice will lead our organization to better serve our community. As I said, I’m the only Latino, and I don’t want to be alone. I invite you to join us. … I really would love, love, love to have you serving in Chatham Literacy and to participate in the CCCC program.”

Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at victoria@chathamnr.com.

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