Group continues work to unite community


JASPER— After two years of community engagement work, the Latino Collaboration Table is going to evaluate its efforts.

At the group’s meeting Thursday, members decided it was time to look back over the past two years and see if their efforts have been successful, particularly with regard to workforce development.

The informal group formed in 2017 to address the needs of local companies, schools and the Latino community and to look for ways to better connect the area’s Latino population to the community at large. Members include local government officials, education leaders and interested community members, with new people joining periodically.

“Anybody who wants to come [to a meeting] can come,” said Donna Oeding, chair of the Latino Collaboration Table. “We are not an exclusive group.”

The next meeting is set for 10:30 a.m. May 30 at the German American headquarters at 1131 W. 12th Ave., Jasper. Between now and the next meeting, each subcommittee — language and culture, immigration, and education — will come up with a report of what they’ve accomplished since the group started and what they will continue working on with their current initiatives. The subcommittees will also discuss the needs they see in the community, most notably how to reach older members of the Latino community to inform them of the resources available. To that end, there are already a few initiatives in motion.

Recently, members of the education committee created Latinx Dubois, a Facebook page that shares information about community events and resources in Spanish. The page’s main goal is to inform the immigrant community about resources available in U.S. communities that aren’t common in their home countries. Huntingburg Elementary is also planning a parent meeting with English-language learners that will include representatives from each school level. The goal there is to meet with and educate parents in the most efficient way possible.

“We know that at the elementary level, parents are more involved with their students,” said Southridge High School Principal Chad Sickbert.

He added that that is the case for all families, not just Latino families.

As one of its current initiatives, the language and culture subcommittee is working on a Dubois County Museum exhibit about where Latino families in the county are from. Members of that committee recently talked to Jasper and Southridge high school students about the project at a building confidence workshop hosted at Jasper High School.

“There’s all about the Germans and everybody else, but nothing about the Latinos,” Oeding said.

The project has been slow going so far, with many Latino families nervous about sharing their stories in a public exhibit. But the organizers are optimistic that as the word spreads about what the exhibit is, people will come on board.

Recently, the education committee has focused on getting adult, basic-education opportunities for people whose first language is Spanish. Committee chair Christian Blome, who is also dean of Vincennes University Jasper Campus, shared that many of the study materials and even the test for the general educational development certificate — or the GED — are now available in Spanish. Now, it’s a matter of getting those resources to the people who need them.

Blome also added that having some kind of GED program in place is important because it could give the immigrant population a step up not just educationally, but eventually could help with applications for citizenship. Members of the group have been looking at legislative proposals for offering immigrants a path to citizenship dating back to the George W. Bush administration, Blome said, and most of them include a requirement for a high school diploma or equivalent.

“We want to already have that pathway set up so people who want to [become citizens] can already have that part of it checked off,” Blome said. 

Members of the Latino Collaboration Table and other community partners have been trying a lot of initiatives to help merge the Latino and dominant cultures in Dubois County. It’s just a matter of seeing what works and combining resources behind those efforts.

“We’ve got to keep trying,” Oeding said. “That way, when the word gets out, the resources will be there.”

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