By Alison Margo = | January 29, 2018 | Culture
Forward-thinking organizations are creating opportunity for the valley's largest growing demographic of children.
A member of the AVSC Big Mountain team flies high. AVSC's Base Camp recreation program offers scholarships for local kids to learn to ski and ride, many on equipment donated by Gorsuch and D&E.
When Miah Wheeler began thinking more about how to get the Latino community involved with the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club, he decided to turn to a more common ground than snow sports—the bicycle.
Wheeler has good reason to be courting young Latinos for the valley-wide, year-round program. In the Roaring Fork School District, (Basalt and Glenwood Springs public schools), Latinos account for over half the student body population. AVSC is one of several valley nonprofits dedicated to providing opportunity to the immigrant population for one simple reason: more than half of these kids represent the future for Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.
“The demographics are changing,” says Jon Fox-Rubin, executive director for Valley Settlement Project, a nonprofit organization whose mission is empowering immigrant families in the valley to improve their lives. “The beauty is we’re now seeing second-generation immigrant families whose kids are growing up here, and they’re succeeding and thriving. Over the next 20 years, we’re going to see an evolution from working-class Latinos in Aspen who were doing menial labor emerging into other industries like tourism, hospitality and real estate.”
Lara Beaulieu, executive director of English in Action shares a similar perspective after working with adult immigrants (who are often parents) for over a decade, pairing native English speakers with Latinos who want to improve their English language skills. “When you think about immigrant community members, there’s a huge amount of untapped potential. As those people develop their language skills and become more integrated into their communities, that’s going to be a huge asset to our valley as a whole.”
Wheeler views integration as a two-way street. He believes coming together through the sports that are so integral to life in this valley is a great way to level the playing field. Last year, his organization served 252 Latino kids with over a million dollars in scholarships, and gave out 400 pairs of skis and snowboard equipment provided by sponsors.
He’s excited about using cycling to foster outreach. Last May, over 100 people and more than 24 sponsors participated in the first annual Pedaleando, a 6 ½-mile community bike ride and breakfast from Willits in Basalt to Rock Bottom Ranch and back. Thrilled with the event’s success, Wheeler envisions a bright future. “We’re breaking down some of the barriers that keep us apart, and we’re starting with the kids. If we could send one of these kids all the way to the Olympics, that would be a major victory for all of us.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF AVSC BY ERIC KNIGHT