Friday, January 02, 2009

LUPE stresses response to immigrant needs

Check out more information on LUPE


By DAN BARKER, Times Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008

One of the things OneMorgan County Coordinator Brenda Zion learned from a trip to Texas is to review just what immigrants want and need.

Zion made a trip to San Juan, Texas, near the very bottom tip of the state, to visit with LUPE, an organization known for its outreach to Hispanic immigrants and workers.

The OneMorgan County transition team is working to find out just how to financially and culturally support OMC, which will have its grant money run out at the end of next summer.

Zion went to see LUPE to find out how it works its membership program, which supports much of its efforts, she said.

LUPE is quite different from OneMorgan County, because LUPE sprang out of the Hispanic union founded by the famous Cesar Chavez, who championed the rights of agricultural workers, Zion said.

LUPE membership means being a part of a quasi-union, complete with benefits and political power, which is not what OMC has been about, she said.

Zion took part in a meeting with many other organizations which were interested in how LUPE works, she said. Most of those agencies were from around the Denver Metro area, but there were people from Boston and Los Angeles, too.

The thing all of the organizations took away was to realize — or remember — that they have to work on things that immigrants really need and want, Zion said.

That means finding out what they need, not just acting from the outside, she said.

“That really stood out,” Zion said.

OneMorgan County did a lot of that when it was founded, but it may be time to revisit that aspect of the mission, Zion said.

Some of that will happen when the transition team conducts community groups and forums to determine the future of OMC at the beginning of 2009, she said.

Zion is also conducting a survey of what immigrants need in order to be more successful, she said.

These are both opportunities to see what OMC should pursue, and should be done regularly, Zion said.

One of the strengths of LUPE is that it was built from the bottom up, by workers who had needs and organized to meet them, she said.

It is easier for LUPE’s members to know why they should be a part of the organization, Zion said.

LUPE offers specific benefits to its members — such as participation in a community loan fund — which offer innovative housing and economic development activities, she said.

Members can receive low-interest loans for housing or micro-loans to start businesses, Zion said.

LUPE does not give handouts, she said, because people should do for themselves.

For instance, the main office for LUPE stands on 10 acres on which homes are built for members. Like Habitat for Humanity, the members must put 500 hours of sweat equity into their own homes, as well as pay the cost of materials.

LUPE does help its 5,000 members to access outside social services resources for immediate needs with the support of state and local partners. Part of that is referrals to clinics and attorneys.

It also provides a prescription service for those who need medicines, including for asthma and diabetes, Zion said.

LUPE provides tax preparation and translation services and does leadership development, she said.

One of its strengths is that committees of members help direct the organization and bring up special needs, Zion said.

“So it really becomes their organization,” she said.

However, LUPE is not completely satisfied with where it stands, Zion said.

It wants to find a way to bridge the gap between immigrants and the receiving communities — which is the mission of OneMorgan County, Zion said.

This means there is a limit to how much LUPE can teach Morgan County, she said.

All of LUPE’s membership is individual, which is different than OMC’s vision of also having business memberships.

LUPE’s individual memberships cost $40 per year and $60 for a couple.

However, the trip was valuable for a couple of reasons, Zion said.

She had a chance to meet with other Colorado organizations, which may help in the long run, and she was reminded of the core value of meeting immigrants’ needs, she said.

— Contact Dan Barker at

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