Jose Pinedo: 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.

Jose Pinedo from Catholic Charities of Northern Kansas, Salina, Kansas

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

I enjoy this work because it is something that makes a difference and has a positive effect on other people’s lives.

What inspired you to enter this field of work?

This type of work reminds me about the place where I grew up, the beautiful cities that I have had the opportunity to visit and the warmth of the people. This job has given me the opportunity to stay connected to my heritage and help those with which I have so much in common.

In your opinion, what benefits does integration offer your community?

What strategies have you found most impactful when promoting integration? There are several benefits integration can offer the community. It maximizes a resident’s potential to positively impact his/her community. The community is more resilient when people integrate and engage. We would also benefit from creating a resource center within the community so that it’s accessible and utilized by everyone.

There are several strategies that I have found helpful, which include direct contact with people and sharing personal stories. This helps create a connection. I also think it’s important to offer information and the benefits of integration in the community. Speaking the language of community members is also helpful as well as utilizing the data from CLINIC’s integration survey to learn more about how the community and individual perceive integration currently in our community. I also participate in informative meetings and networking.

How have community organizing efforts impacted your community?

Our agency’s outreach has expanded among the 31 counties we serve in Kansas. Despite only having three offices (Salina, Hays, and Manhattan,) we are able to connect with those who are in need but don’t live near our offices.

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

I have made connection with owners of Mexican restaurants in Concordia and Osborne. They are willing to share space in their restaurants. I have been able to talk and meet with their employees and share information about the NIEP. They are also encouraging their employees to learn English. One of the owners has a partnership with a resident who teaches English as a second language to the Hispanic community.

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

Here in Salina, immigrant community members can access the following services:

  • ESL courses;
  • The City of Salina’s Community Relations Department;
  • Bilingual services and school counselors; and
  • One Salina (a grassroots organization that is dedicated to integration activities such as ESL education, advocacy, community cultural programs, etc.)

These services help their confidence. On the other hand, the small rural towns that we are reaching through the NIEP normally don’t have access to these kinds of resources, services or relevant information in their language (Spanish.) So, our work is very clear: to empower the people by bringing them information about these resources and services. We give them the information that they are looking for and the option to empower themselves so that they can improve their own circumstances.

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?

Through the NIEP we focus on small rural towns located in the northern region of Kansas, visiting 46 cities within the region. I also assess the community and current resources while working with communities who would be most impacted by our efforts. I also assist in engagement events, educational activities and leadership training. My overall goal is to help create a group of residents who can meet frequently to discuss issues and ways to improve the community. My hope for the next few years is to see the immigrant community work together and learn strategies to seek solutions to their collective problems. Also, having an efficient communication channel to share information, resources and best practices. I hope that communities across the country will learn from the NIEP and be inspired to offer resources and education that is dedicated to help the immigrant and help them learn how to organize by themselves, so they can seek positive changes in their lives and fight against social injustices without fear.