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December 15, 2005

Posada event demonstrates Cooperative Extension's cross-cultural outreach

Photo of volunteers hanging a pinata
Volunteers tie a piñata to a stout rope before hoisting it to the cafeteria rafters. (Photos by Art Latham)

Although they’re a long way from their original homes, Hispanic/Latino workers and their families in remote Tyrrell County have felt welcome for several years, thanks to North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

Since 1996, Dee Voliva Furlough, family and consumer sciences agent for N.C. Cooperative Extension in Tyrrell County, with a little help from the Latino community, has done her best to ensure that.

She’s seen results especially since 1999, when she helped form the 24-member Extension Hispanic/Latino advisory committee. Rosa Hernandez, now a year-round Columbia resident and a committee member, was especially helpful, Furlough said recently.

And since 2001, townspeople see a small part of those outreach efforts during the year’s-end holiday season, when Furlough helps her Latino clients reenact an historic Mexican cultural tradition.

La Posada (originally las posadas) is a procession – a large group of singers follows Mary and Joseph, who repeatedly are turned away from “inns” – in this case, local homes and businesses along Main Street -- until they finally find room; in this case, at Columbia High School. At each stop, enactors inside and outside the inn sing choruses to each other in Spanish and English, and children score treats that rival Halloween’s. The mile-long procession, which was featured in Coastwatch magazine, ends at the cafeteria with a fiesta of traditional food, upbeat music and games, complete with two piñatas.

Photo of children posing as Mary and Joseph at the inn
‘Mary’ and ‘Joseph’ are turned away yet again from an ‘unfriendly’ inn.

This year’s procession included more than 100 people, many of whom would no doubt later shop in Columbia’s business district’s stores. More than 200, most of them Latinos, attended the fiesta.

Rhett White, Columbia town manager, helped dish out tamales and other Latino food during the fiesta.

Said White: “Cooperative Extension has always played a strong role in Tyrell County’s community and governmental affairs, so their involvement with the Latino community is nothing new.

“But without the efforts of Dee and the Extension staff,” he said, “the posada wouldn’t be the important part it is of our holiday activities. Extension deserves credit for their outreach to the growing Hispanic community in this town and in the county.”

The posada is not the only Latino-oriented project Furlough and the Extension staff have undertaken, and their successes didn’t happen overnight.

Furlough had to patiently build up her contacts with the Latino community. First, she staged educational displays in Spanish on the apartment building grounds in Columbia where many Hispanic women live. The demonstrations included nutritious food samples and interpreters on hand to answer question on topics from health and nutrition, parenting and housing to stress management.

Photo of children hitting a pinata
Lupita Ramos helps a young would-be piñata-buster.

As Furlough met more Latino women, the demonstrations progressed into more specific educational outreach projects, including creation of an advisory council.

“Extension in Tyrrell County and the advisory council have worked over the years as advocates for and sources of research-based information for area Hispanics,” Furlough said. The council, under Extension’s auspices, has initiated programs and outreach efforts based on local Hispanic residents’ expressed needs.

These include:

(Through a Cooperative Extension community development grant)
·Free Spanish classes for Tyrrell County employees and others.
·Spanish/English medical dictionaries for the Columbia Medical Center, the local Health Department and ambulances
·Spanish/English dictionaries for local businesses and county offices
·Rosetta Stone software (which teaches both Spanish and English) for the public library
·Sewing machine repair for Hispanics (and others) to use these machines at the Family Resource Center
·Translation/interpretation services

(Through community donations)
·Personal hygiene kits for incoming Hispanic seafood workers (a few kits were bought and distributed before a Chowan Baptist Ladies Association donation)
·Donation of educational videos regarding domestic violence in the Hispanic culture to the local women's shelter
·Accoutrements for a county-wide forum on Hispanic affairs, with guest speaker Dr. Nolo Martinez, former Governor's Director of Hispanic/Latino Affairs
·Bienvenido – Welcome – to Tyrrell County event. Speakers from the Council, as well as other community spokespeople welcome new workers. Refreshments, displays and educational materials available with interests of the entire family. Participants receive Food Lion gift cards. This has been done for the past two years

Extension-provided services:

·Needs survey of the Hispanic community
·Beginner and Advanced ESL classes taught through Beaufort Community College at the library (initiated through Extension and the council)
·Twice-weekly exercise classes at the Extension Office
·Health education classes taught by the county health department and Chowan Hospital
·Distribution of a Spanish/English newsletter focusing on such topics as health, nutrition, parenting, financial management and more
·Drivers education classes taught by Beaufort Community College
·Availability of a variety of Extension pamphlets in Spanish
·Donation of Spanish books and magazine subscriptions to the public library, which granted the council space for Spanish language material.
·Spanish displays and information at various community and health fairs

“We look forward to continued outreach in this area, and welcome additional resources and services for Hispanics from other sources,” she said.

Are such cross-cultural communication efforts difficult?

“If it can be done here in Tyrrell County,” Furlough said, “it can be done anywhere.”

-A. Latham

Posted by Suzanne at December 15, 2005 11:00 AM