Ashleigh Flores: NIEP community organizer highlight

Get to know one of the eight National Immigrant Empowerment Project, or NIEP, community organizers that are advocating alongside members of their community and empowering the immigrant community to take the lead in creating long-lasting, positive changes in their cities.

Ashleigh Flores from Catholic Charities of Pueblo, Colorado

Why do you enjoy working with the immigrant and refugee community?

I feel very connected to the immigrant/refugee community because my family has experienced the difficulties of immigrating to the United States. The process of receiving green card status for my husband and citizenship status for my children had unique challenges and issues. As newcomers in Pueblo, Colo., I feel connected to the immigrant/refugee community.

What inspired you to enter this field of work?

I was inspired to enter this field because I felt that on some level I understood the journey of an immigrant. The struggle of impermanence and uncertainty with the dream of a better future for your family. This field of work allows me to contribute and learn from my community in a very meaningful way.

In your opinion, what benefits does integration offer your community? What strategies have you found most impactful when promoting integration?

Integration creates a deeper understanding of others, which leads to change. Change of thinking, change of reacting, change of relationships. We had the opportunity to work with our immigrant community to host an “Around the World” potluck in February. This event brought together eight different cuisines and cultures that live in our community. We also invited other departments of our agency, government officials, school district employees, local businesses and more. It was amazing to see it all come together. To watch the conversations and connections that were made. At one point, a few girls started dancing traditional folkloric dance just for fun. Many community members left with a greater understanding of the immigrant community of Pueblo. They all agreed this needs to be done more often.

How have community organizing efforts impacted your community?

The biggest impact from our efforts has been our work with the city schools of Pueblo. We have built relationships with schools and school board staff and parents.

We have also learned there is a big problem with language barriers for the parents of the city schools. Our city schools have one translator for the entire district, and she is in charge of translating for over 900 families. We are working with our families and city schools to understand possible solutions for this issue.

In what ways have immigrants and refugees been involved in grassroots organizing?

We work with a center located in an agricultural area close to our city, “El Centro de Los Pobres.” This center provides help to immigrants and refugees. The center is known all over the state as being a safe place for immigrants and refugees. The center is run by immigrants for immigrants. This grassroots organization provides essentials to new immigrants, host doctors, host informational meetings with medicaid/medicare providers, know your rights presentations and much more.

How has the immigrant community been empowered in your community? Why is it beneficial for them to feel empowered?

I believe organizations like El Centro de Los Pobres and Catholic Charities Immigration Department have empowered many immigrants in our community. Giving them access to resources, education on their rights and support in their journey. There is still a long way to go with empowering immigrants but we are on the right path. When WE, as a community, are able to empower our immigrant community they are then able to create the change needed for the next generation and their children. When they feel supported and seen, they will feel empowered and more connected to contributing to the larger community.

Can you briefly explain your project and what changes you are hoping to see over the next few years? What do you hope communities across the country will learn from the National Immigrant Empowerment Project (NIEP), your project specifically?

Our first project is focused on the educational integration of immigrant families in our community. We want to understand how immigrant families are supported in our city schools. What services are offered to them? How accessible are those services? Why is there only one translator? What support is missing? We are building relationships and trust with the city schools and our immigrant families to understand these issues better. We are bringing together community leaders and thinkers to brainstorm how we can bring positive change to the educational integration process for our immigrant families.

We would like to create materials and a training course that is essentially “Know Your Rights for Schools” that can be given to our city schools. We are looking to our capital city of Denver to see how they are supporting their immigrant families. We are creating partnerships with other organizations and agencies that support immigrant families and education in our community.

We hope to create sustainable changes in our city schools that support immigrant families and educational integration. We want our families to feel welcomed, supported and empowered to become an advocate for their child’s education.