Some of Aurora’s newest residents are now among those most prepared to help their neighbors in the wake of an emergency.
A group of 19 individuals recently tested their new skills at CCA’s Center for Simulation in a mock drill, and for nearly two hours, the group worked to save the lives of people trapped and injured in the aftermath of a tornado—all part of a realistic, but simulated, disaster. Student volunteers from Aurora Public Schools played the part of victims needing assistance.
The exercise was the culmination of six Saturdays of training by Spanish-speaking community members. The training was made possible by a partnership between CCA and the Original Aurora Community Integration Collaborative (OACIC). The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) training, prepares participants to provide assistance during disasters when professional responders may not be available.
“It’s been amazing to be a part of this training with CCA, OACIC, the Aurora Fire Department, and the Aurora Police Department,” said Jenny Pool Radway, OACIC program coordinator. “The residents have come to Aurora from Latin American countries and are not necessarily familiar with our customs. Thanks to this program, they are now more involved than ever in being a part of, and giving back to, their new community.”
OACIC’s mission is to help both immigrant and long-term residents better understand one another and form a more connected community in Original Aurora, roughly defined as an area bordered by Stapleton, Lowry, and Fitzsimons, with E. Colfax Avenue at its heart. The organization is funded by the Colorado Trust’s Supporting Immigrant and Refugee Families Initiative, and the Aurora Mental Health Center serves as fiscal agent for the grant.
CCA administrators point out the significance of the partnership. “The OACIC partnership is a continuation of our work with the Original Aurora community that goes back nearly a decade,” says CCA’s Chris Ward, executive director for grants and planning. Pool Radway acknowledges CCA’s role as a founding member of OACIC and says that through several programs, the partnership has been addressing immigrant integration in the community since 2002.
Ward adds that CCA has been involved in other efforts in north Aurora. CCA, along with Aurora Public Schools, St. Therese Catholic Church, and Wells Fargo Bank, provided the support needed to implement Original Aurora Renewal’s Workforce Development Program in 2002. The initiative was established to deliver civics training, basic education, and English language acquisition opportunities to Aurora’s growing Hispanic population. Original Aurora Renewal was established in 1992 to preserve and improve the physical, social, and economic health of the city’s northern, “original” neighborhoods.
“CCA takes seriously its commitment to this community,” Ward says. “For many years, we have seen increasing numbers of refugees and immigrants in the community and in our student body. We are committed to working with these groups through OACIC and now, in an exciting way, through this partnership with our EMS program, which gives people skills to work in emergency situations right in their own communities.”
Ward adds that this evolution is a reminder of the many ways the college can be involved in the north Aurora population and how residents can take advantage of the college’s many resources. He notes that FEMA’s interest in community colleges in cities like Aurora, where one in every three people speaks a language other than English at home, is essential. “The city’s emergency planning efforts should—and does—include people of diverse linguistic backgrounds,” he explains.
Pool Radway says she sees a change among residents in the neighborhoods served by OACIC. “OACIC has now started a Spanish-speaking neighborhood watch, and we work closely with the police department. This group has evolved so much that they are asking for more leadership opportunities so that they can be even more a part of, and give back to, the Aurora community. It’s a matter of pride,” she says. “At our first OACIC community meeting, we had 15 people show up, and now, we have up to 50 regular attendees. We’ve progressed to where we’ve created a phone tree, which has been activated a few times. These concepts are very foreign if you haven’t grown up with them.”
Pool Radway paints a positive picture of an evolving community. Original Aurora has been a “really transient community,” she says. “People have tended to stay a year or two and move on to another area. But with these new connections with CCA, with the police department, with their neighbors, we believe people will put down roots.”
OACIC participants now wear t-shirts with the slogan ‘We take care of one another,’ says Pool Radway. “These are important connections among all of us that improve the community,” she says. “A lot of this work we are doing now is sustainable on its own, so it’s a great investment that will pay off.”