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Immigrant workers and their families are a dynamic force behind recent population upturns or stabilization across rural America. In fact, between 2010 and 2016, immigrants from around the world were responsible for 37 percent of net rural population growth. Rural communities that rely on the economic drivers of tourism and recreation and essential services like health care and food production have been hit hard by the impact of COVID-19. Due to multiple risk and systemic factors, the many immigrants employed in these rural industries have been disproportionately affected and face enormous challenges, as do the rural communities where they live and work.
What particular challenges are rural immigrants and their communities experiencing in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis? How are rural development organizations adapting what they do to align with, support, embrace and engage immigrants through the emergency and beyond? And how can policy help? Watch the recording of the August 19th Rural Opportunity and Development (ROAD) Session to find out!
Ernestor De La Rosa, Assistant City Manager – City of Dodge City. Kansas
Like many rural leaders, Ernestor wears many hats. In his day job, he oversees the City’s Public Transportation and Human Resources Departments and serves as the City’s Legislative Affairs Director. He also coordinates the efforts of the Southwest Kansas Coalition and facilitates the Complete Count Committee for the Census 2020 efforts in Dodge City and Ford County. Governor Laura Kelly appointed Ernestor to serve on the FORWARD/Long-Range Transportation Plan Advisory Group, representing both the City of Dodge City and the Kansas Hispanic & Latino American Affairs Commission. Ernestor was born and raised in Mexico, immigrated to the United States at the age of 13, and is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient.
John Scribner, Director, StartSmart – Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI). Brunswick, Maine
John leads StartSmart, a business development program that helps immigrants start or grow businesses in Maine. He has nearly 20 years in the field, including previous work as a small business advisor in Ecuador. That experience made John a great fit for helping refugees and immigrants settling in Maine attain self-sufficiency by pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams. In recognition of his dedicated work and track record, John has been named co-recipient of the US SBA’s Minority Small Business Champion for Maine, and as Refugee Microenterprise Champion by the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Araceli Palafox, Lift To Rise. Coachella Valley, California
In 2014–15, a group of community-based organizations serving California’s Coachella Valley — including a food bank, a United Way, a regional foundation and a healthcare district — came together to use a collective impact approach to turn the tide of mounting disadvantages faced by too many local residents. That led to the creation of Lift To Rise, where Araceli helps convene private, public and nonprofit partners in collaborative action networks to improve three indicator areas: housing stability, community health and social connection in the Valley. As Deputy Director of Lift to Rise, she supports the development and implementation of regional, cross-sectoral strategies to approach issues of inequity. Araceli is passionate about using data and evidence to drive community development and positive growth for communities.
Daniel Lichter, Ferris Family Professor of Life Course Studies, Cornell Institute for Public Affairs
Daniel centers much of his work on the changing social and economic conditions of rural America. Most recently, he has focused on rural population trends over the past century, and on fertility and reproductive health in small-town America. Daniel has published widely on topics in population and public policy, including studies of concentrated poverty and inequality, intermarriage, cohabitation and marriage among disadvantaged women, and immigration. He is especially interested in America’s racial and ethnic transformation, growing diversity, and the implications for the future.
Chitra Kumar, Senior Fellow, Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group
Chitra joined Aspen CSG as a fellow from the US Environmental Protection Agency. As EPA Director of the Federal and State Division in the Office of Community Revitalization, she created partnerships with federal, state and local organizations to develop environmental strategies for land use and infrastructure, building and community design, and equity and community wealth-building, particularly in distressed small towns and urban neighborhoods. A second-generation immigrant to the rural Midwest, Chitra is particularly interested in advancing equity, environmental sustainability, and economic resilience, while highlighting immigrants’ contributions to the American economy.
About the Rural Opportunity and Development Sessions
The ROAD Sessions highlight and unpack rural development ideas and strategies that are critical in response to COVID-19 and to long-term rebuilding and recovery. Each month this summer, the ROAD Sessions will feature stories of on-the-ground practitioners who have experience, wisdom and savvy to share. The series will reflect and emphasize the full diversity of rural America, spotlight rural America’s assets and challenges, and lift voices and lived experience from a wide range of rural communities and economies. Each Session will include an added opportunity for peer exchange. Overall, the ROAD Sessions aim to infuse practitioner stories and lessons into rural narratives, policymaking and practice across the country, and to strengthen the network of organizations serving rural communities and regions.
The ROAD Sessions virtual exchanges are co-designed and hosted by the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group, the Housing Assistance Council, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership and Rural LISC.