Latinos March For Navigator Position

“Latinos unidos, jamas vencidos.” Latinos united, we are never defeated.

That was the chant heard throughout downtown Jamestown on Wednesday morning when members of the local Hispanic community participated in a peace march to raise awareness about the Hispanic services navigator position. The position, which originated five years ago, will come to an end when the Joint Neighborhood Project closes at the end of the month.

The walk, which began in the parking lot of Immanuel Lutheran Church, took nearly 40 people past many of the major funders from the Joint Neighborhood Project, including the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County and the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation. The group also made a stop at Tracy Plaza.

“Knowing that there will be something for all of these families once this position ends is what preoccupies me,” said Samantha Ellis, Hispanic service navigator and Live and Learn coordinator. “Over the five years that I’ve done this job, a lot of the time I had to do the footwork because there was nothing like this in the community. I think this is going to be an awakening for the community as far as the different agencies go, because they’re going to need to be able to fulfill the need that the navigator was covering.”

According to Ellis, last year there were 883 people who were helped out in some aspect by the navigator position. During those 12 months, Ellis handled roughly 4,500 tasks for those 883 people, including phone calls, translation services, interpretation, advocacy and more. The services provided by Ellis and the navigator position covered a full spectrum.

“Not that anyone lacks the intelligence to realize that (Hispanics) are a big community, but I think in some aspects we’ve been slow in adapting to their needs,” said Ellis. “Some agencies have gotten to speed and stepped up to the plate while others have not. Hopefully this will be a push for those agencies to revamp so that everyone will have equal access when they go to them.”

The navigator position was originally conceived in 2008 to fill a gap in services for the Hispanic community, addressing the language barrier, among other issues. The walk that took place Wednesday was primarily to bring the program to the attention of area funders again, encouraging them to support another program like this in the future.

“We’re doing this in case they want to sit down and have conversations with the community,” said Ellis. “Something has to be done. I know that there are a lot of people interested in doing something, but we don’t just want a Band-Aid covering up the wound; we want to find something that’s concrete, meets the community’s needs, has accountability and is going to do what it’s supposed to do. I’m optimistic to think that there will be good partnerships for this.”

During the five years that she has served as navigator, as well as the seven years that she worked as an ESL instructor for the Hispanic community, Ellis says that she’s learned many things.

“There are opportunities brewing,” said Ellis. “I know a lot of people worry about the funds and grants, but I also know that our state, our government, our private sectors and our nonprofits have access to dollars that have to be reserved to minority groups, which is exactly what this is. Hopefully we’ll be able to make something positive come out of all of this.”