2020 Navigator: Irene Avitia helps lift minority voices
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Irene Avitia was 12 years old when her family moved from Mexico to Steamboat Springs. She remembers being in middle school knowing little English and dealing with the culture shock of moving from Mexico to a majority-white city.
“It was hard navigating the systems,” she said. “A whole new world I would say, it was definitely shocking.”
But Avitia said she was “like a sponge” in learning.
While she originally felt out of place in moving to Steamboat from a small town in Zacatecas, Mexico, where she felt she knew everyone, Avitia didn’t feel isolated or rejected.
“I had good classmates and I think the school was doing a great job trying to support us and learning to support us,” she said.
While learning English and adapting to American cultures, Avitia discovered a passion she hoped to one day make into a career: working with children.
“I had always wanted to work with children since I was little,” she said.
Avitia is the recipient of one of three Navigator Awards presented this year by the Steamboat Springs Chamber in partnership with Steamboat Pilot & Today. Avitia was named as outstanding young professional for her accomplishments and contributions to the community.
“Dedication, intelligence and kindness are just a few of Irene’s incredible traits,” said Steamboat Chamber Executive Director Kara Stoller, who sits on the awards committee. “She has risen as a leader in her work with Integrated Community, being a voice and resource for those who need it most in addition to moving forward work of additional organizations such as First Impressions.
When she found out she received the award, Avitia said she was in shock.
“As a Latina, it can be a little more challenging,” she said. “Sometimes I doubt myself, but this award reminds me that I’m fighting the good fight and I’m breaking barriers for next generations including my daughters and that makes me proud.”
What: 2020 Navigator Awards Drive-in Celebration
When: 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21
Where: Meadows Parking Lot, 1165 Bangtail Way in Steamboat Springs
Tickets: $30 per person, includes a charcuterie box by Laura the Butcher and two drinks
After having her first daughter while in high school, Avitia was able to make her dream of working with children come true. She enrolled her daughter in Young Tracks Preschool and learned there was an open position for a teacher’s aid. She applied and got the job.
She took two years off from the position but returned after enrolling her second daughter in Young Tracks.
While she loved her job at the preschool, when a position opened up at Integrated Community, an immigrant support nonprofit in Steamboat, her husband told her she couldn’t pass on the opportunity.
“I’ve always wanted to work with children and families and I’m passionate about working with the immigrant community,” she said, which is what inspired her to apply for and accept a position as an interpreter in 2014.
Three years later, she began working as an early childhood education specialist with Integrated Community. She offers home-learning programs to the Spanish-speaking community in Routt County.
“Being away from home and raising kids away from your culture and family is challenging,” she said.
Read about all the 2020 Navigator Award winners:
Snow Bowl Steamboat, Business of the Year
Soniya Fidler, Business Person of the Year
Irene Avitia, Young Professional of the Year
In addition to raising two daughters, 12 and 7 years old, and working with Integrated Community, Avitia serves in several community organizations. She is co-chairperson for First Impressions of Routt County, a member of multiple racial justice groups and works with several sub-groups under First Impressions.
While she enjoys each of her positions, the journey from knowing no one and little English to becoming so involved in the community has not always been easy, she admitted.
“It’s challenging when you’re Latina and a woman,” she said, adding that she sometimes doubts herself.
The most difficult part of her current involvement, she said, is trying to raise her daughters during the pandemic.
With schools transitioning to online learning, her daughters need more of her time and are experiencing emotional distress due to an abrupt change in routine.
“It’s very hard as a parent to see your kid going through an emotional roller coaster,” she said. “She never got the closure from last year ending.” COVID-19 hit in March, before the end of the traditional school year.
People she works with in the community describe Avitia as well-spoken, confident and a great leader.
“When she talks, people listen,” said Lisel Petis, a Steamboat Springs City Council member who is on a racial justice group with Avitia.
Business Person of the Year: 1999, Julie Green; 2000, Rod Hanna; 2001, Mike Lomas; 2002, Andy Wirth; 2003, Scott Ford; 2004, Steve Dawes; 2005, John Kerst; 2006, Chris Diamond; 2007, David Baldinger Jr.; 2008, Rex Brice; 2009, Chuck Porter; 2010, David Nagel; 2011, Grant Fenton; 2012, Karl Gills; 2013, Jim Schneider; 2014, Ed MacArthur; 2015, Bob Dapper; 2016, Scott Marr; 2017, Adonna Allen ; 2018, Mark Walker; 2019, Cole Hewitt
Young Professional of the Year: 2009, Stacy Huffman; 2010, Ryan Marsden; 2011, Sara Ferris; 2012, Stephany Traylor; 2013, Chris Tamucci; 2014, Sarah Fox; 2015, Glen Traylor; 2016, Nick Sharp; 2017, Tara Weaver; 2018, Jason Peasley; 2019, Kerry Shea
Business of the Year: 1999, TIC; 2000, Native Excavating; 2001, Ore House at the Pine Grove; 2002, SmartWool; 2003, Ski Haus; 2004, PostNet; 2005, F.M. Light & Sons; 2006, Off the Beaten Path bookstore; 2007, Prudential Steamboat Realty; 2008, Christy Sports; 2009, BAP!; 2010, Yampa Valley Bank; 2011, Alpine Bank; 2012, Colorado Mountain College; 2013, Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare; 2014, Yampa Valley Medical Center; 2015, Rex’s Family of Restaurants; 2016, Chief Theater; 2017, Steamboat Springs Arts Council; 2018, Freshies; 2019, Mountain Tap Brewery
Service Excellence Professional of the Year: 2017, Barbara Robinson; 2018, Jason and Kelly Landers; 2019, Michael Guerrero
While she may not be the first to speak up, she speaks with confidence and “doesn’t shy away from making important points,” Petis added.
Beth Melton, chairperson of First Impressions and a Routt County commissioner, echoed Petis’ sentiment.
“I think she’s just such a great leader of our community and we’re so fortunate to have her,” Melton said.
Avitia is 28 years old with a full-time job, two children and multiple volunteer positions, and she does all of it for her daughters.
“Watching (Avitia) with her daughters and the way that she’s helped them to cope with the understanding and challenges in being the minority in Steamboat is inspiring,” Melton said.
Avitia is often the youngest and only person of color in the room, which her peers say makes her even more impressive.
“That can be a real challenge and I think she rises to that challenge and she’s never afraid to speak up or advocate for what she thinks is important,” Melton said.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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