Friday, September 28, 2007

Cultural center looks to bridge gaps

La Alianza nears fund-raising goal for initial start-up costs

Express Staff Writer

The city of Sun Valley again extended its philanthropic hand to local nonprofit groups on Wednesday, approving a $10,000 contract-for-service agreement to start-up organization La Alianza, or The Alliance. The group's paramount goal is to bridge cultural divides in Blaine County and to fill unmet needs of the growing Spanish-speaking population.

The last official census count in 2000 estimated 11 percent of Blaine County is of Hispanic descent, an estimate the Blaine County School District and other local agencies consider low, leading some to wonder why it took so long for an organization like La Alianza to blossom.

Although an exact countywide Latino population figure is not available, it is known that 20 percent of Blaine County students are Latino, as are 60 percent of students in Woodside Elementary in Hailey.

"It is long overdue," said Sun Valley City Councilman Nils Ribi. "They will be a resource in the valley for more than just Mexicans, they will help Guatemalans, Peruvians, Costa Ricans with all kinds of cultural matters."

In a survey conducted in February 2007 at St. Luke's Community Latino Health Fair, 100 percent of respondents stated their support for and interest in receiving assistance in legal aid, financial services, immigration, education, translation, interpretation and help for single parents. In addition, 95 percent of respondents in the same survey felt Hispanics need to understand more about American culture, and vice versa.

"We are pleased that an organization such as La Alianza stepped forward to fulfill a need in the community," said Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson.

The services required of La Alianza as part of its contract with Sun Valley include researching successful cultural center models in other communities, as well as to prioritize and begin to provide what the city calls "critical services." This includes immigration and legal services, translation and general assistance with English literacy, additional class offerings for Spanish speakers in collaboration with the College of Southern Idaho, additional access and computer training, finding a central meeting place and cross-cultural bridge building between varying cultures in the valley.

With the addition of Sun Valley's $10,000 contribution to La Alianza's coffer, the group has raised $60,000 and is now a stone's throw away from its goal of $75,000 for start-up costs. The organization plans to open its center at the College of Southern Idaho's Hailey campus, although this is not yet finalized. To date, contributions include: $20,000 from the Wood River Women's Foundation; $5,000 from St. Thomas Episcopal Church; $5,000 from Blaine County; and $20,000 in private donations.

A similar center in Boise called Centro de Comunidad Y Justicia is able to operate on a $130,000 budget with two staff.

And while La Alianza's initial focus will be the valley's Spanish-speaking population, the center plans to assist anyone who is in need of the services offered.

"We anticipate La Alianza will provide services to thousands of people a year," states La Alianza's official budgeting request submitted to Sun Valley.

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