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Valley Settlement Project stands on its own as nonprofit

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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The Valley Settlement Project, a Carbondale-based project that aims at improving the lives and educational opportunities of immigrants (primarily Hispanic) in the Roaring Fork Valley region, is confident it will continue to provide services and support for numerous clients of all ages following its recent “launch as a stand-alone nonprofit,” according to executive director Jon Fox-Rubin.

In January the organization, which runs several programs including the popular El Busesito — a mobile educational-outreach facility for pre-school students and their parents — separated from the Manaus Fund nonprofit, which is the umbrella organization that created Valley Settlement in 2012.

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The Manaus Fund was founded in 2005 by well-known local philanthropist and entrepreneur George Stranahan, and Fox-Rubin was executive director of the Manaus Fund before stepping down to take on the lead role in Valley Settlement.

“We are, in some ways …  a support system for families in education,” said Fox-Rubin this week, noting that the organization offers programs to students and parents who live within the Roaring Fork School District, which encompasses Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

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Fox-Rubin pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 1982 decision overturning a law in Texas barring illegal immigrant children from attending school, established that immigrant children, regardless of their official status, have a right to attend schools in the U.S.

That right, the high court decided, was enshrined under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection to all under the law.

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Operating with a 2017 budget of $2.4 million, Valley Settlement gets its funding from a combination of foundation grants, government grants and private donations, which it spends on a broad range of programs, many of which have the goal of getting parents more involved in their childrens’ education, and in getting the kids more interested in attending and succeeding at school.

El Busesito, for example, regularly provides programs for up to about 100 kids, with parents often in attendance as volunteers.

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In addition, Valley Settlement offers health and wellness programs that encompass nutrition education, cooking classes and instruction about buying foods that are affordable and healthy, and a Neighborhood Navigators program that sends bi-lingual workers into the homes of Hispanic families to hear their stories, concerns and expressions of hope as a way of building trust and increasing engagement among adults and students alike.

A complete catalogue of Valley Settlement programs can be found at the organization’s website (www.valleysettlementproject.org) or at the office in the Round Room section of the Third Street Center in Carbondale.

Speaking about the organization, its client base and its goals, Fox-Rubin told The Sopris Sun that Valley Settlement is not specifically working to assuage concerns among local Latinos about the attitudes and policies of President Donald Trump.

Trump and others have openly derided illegal Hispanic immigrants and called for deportation at an as-yet uncertain rate.

On Feb. 21, Trump issued directives to various federal agencies to step up enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws, calling for significant increases in deportations regardless of whether the immigrants in question had committed serious crimes.

According to a story in the New York Times on Tuesday, “Documents released on Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security revealed the broad scope of the president’s ambitions: to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants; strip such immigrants of privacy protections; enlist local police officers as enforcers; erect new detention facilities; discourage asylum seekers; and, ultimately, speed up deportations.”

Fox-Rubin acknowledged that there sometimes is a barely submerged sense of panic among the area’s Hispanic residents, and said he believes the Valley Settlement programs help to mitigate against the nervousness felt by parents and children regardless of their immigration status.

With 35 paid staffers working in the field on a daily basis, he said, Valley Settlement’s programs help families gain confidence in their abilities to learn English and other material, adapt to U.S. laws and customs and meld into society.

“We’re a virtual community center for education,” Fox-Rubin said, adding, “We just want to focus on the families, listen to their needs” and help meet those needs.

Turning to immigration status and related issues, Fox-Rubin said, “Most families have a mixed documentation status,” under which a mother, for instance, cannot work in the U.S. because she is undocumented, but has two children who were born in the U.S. and have the right to attend school here.

Referring to the legal issues, Fox-Rubin said, “We don’t care. We’re just asking moms to volunteer in the schools,” as a way to both improve the mom’s education and deepen the connection between her, her children, and the educational process.

While the Valley Settlement Project is in good shape to continue its mission, Fox-Rubin noted, “We always need financial support” to maintain what he termed “a very intensive program.”

And, he continued, Valley Settlement’s work is showing significant, positive results.

“The data’s starting to show the kids (who go through the Busesito programming) are doing pretty darned good in kindergarten,” he commented, which speaks to a core value of the organization — the vital need to get pre-school kids, and their parents, as comfortable as possible with the idea of going to school and working together at home to raise the level of education for the entire family.

Published in The Sopris Sun on February 23, 2017.

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