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COVID-19 Highlights Gap In Access To Services To Immigrant Populations In Teton County

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Tina Babis is originally from Romania, but has lived in Jackson Hole for ten years.

"I came here as a J1 student years ago, and then went back home," said Babis. "And then came back here with a different visa. And here I am today, living here."

Babis said she was lucky she met good people who helped her integrate and develop a career.

"However, I do meet people that were discriminated against...their nationality," she said. "And then the language barrier, accents and all of that, that comes with the fact that you're coming from a different country."

The discrimination was wide-ranging but it also meant the members of foreign populations were not always getting access to necessary resources, especially as the pandemic hit. And this is what led to her accepting the position as a mobilizer with Voices JH in March.

"We hired seven mobilizers from the Latin X and Eastern European community," said Voices JH coordinator Jordan Rich. "And began distributing messages each week to each individual mobilizer's personal networks of over 25 families each."

Rich said the group was founded as a solution to a problem: how to get COVID-19 resources to the immigrant community in Jackson?

"We know that marginalized communities and people of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. And they're also often the frontline workers, especially in Jackson," said she. "And we were concerned that they weren't getting the public health information that they needed to stay safe. We were also concerned that they didn't have the resources for their family, considering that immigrant community members couldn't apply for unemployment or receive the federal stimulus check."

Nonprofits in Teton County realized that important information could be lost in translation. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 15 percent of Teton County's population is Hispanic or Latino. And 11 percent weren't born in the US.. Officials figure that it is currently over 30 percent of the local population. So far, the initiative has been wildly successful, Roney de la Cruz, originally from Mexico, is also a mobilizer. He spoke Spanish, and Rich translated.

"It's been a beautiful experience because I learned about the needs of our community. I've been able to develop trust with community members to share what their needs are, and to see the bigger supports that are needed in our community," said de la Cruz.

It turns out these communities needed help with more than just coronavirus-related resources.

"Some examples are information about COVID camp for kids, [and] food resources for families that need it," he said.

De la Cruz has been living in Jackson for 21 years. He helps get messages out on social media and through texts and calls.

"Because of my job I have a lot of connections to different families in the community, and I was able to create a large network," he said.

Coordinator Jordan Rich said that information gets spread to others from there.

"We know that we are directly connecting with over 200 individuals each week, but we suspect as the actual outreach is much closer to over 500 between the different social media posts and resharing that's happening within the community," said Rich.

It could be argued that COVID-19 helped them access individuals who had needed services and had been missed over the years. And this is important for Tina Babis.

"The immigrants are at a disadvantage because, I don't know if that's the word, there is the language barrier," said Babis. "And also the lack of education when it comes to where to look for information to help yourself when you're in need."

Voices of JH said they now see there is a real need for this kind of service in other parts of the community. So they are working to add a Vietnamese mobilizer. And are working to get funding so they can continue the service for more needs than just COVID-19.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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