STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s a journey Nelly Navarro has been on for nearly 16 years, but as she spoke from behind her desk at Integrated Community on Monday morning, it was clear that she has arrived.
“I’m truly a passionate advocate for my community,” said Navarro, who was hired this spring as executive director of the Steamboat Springs-based nonprofit. “I want to be there when people cannot speak for themselves. I want to be able to be that voice to speak for them.”
Life may seem simple for people who were born and raised here, Navarro said, but things aren’t as easy for those who are immigrating to the U.S. from other countries. Some may be struggling to gain full control of the language or may not understand American customs.
Navarro understands these challenges and has already walked in these immigrants’ footsteps. She grew up in Peru and attended Ricardo Palma University, where she studied multiple languages and learned how to teach and translate those languages. She is fluent in English and Spanish and proficient in French.
“I was really lucky because I was considered privileged in my home country,” Navarro said. “I always had a home and access to good education. My family did well, but I always felt like I needed something more. I wanted to go somewhere else and do something for myself.”
She came to Steamboat for the first time in 2001 on a J-1 visa and spent winters here in between college.
“Because we have opposite seasons in Peru, it was summer break when I was here working,” Navarro said. “I was getting my bachelor’s in translation and interpretation at the time, and it was just very convenient for me to come and work and improve my English.”
She first worked at the Bunk House and then took another job at the Village Inn during her third winter, and when it was time to go back to Peru, the business offered to sponsor her residency.
“It was a no brainer at the time,” she said. “I love the community, and I love this Steamboat vibe. It was great there were lots of opportunities, lots of work. At the time, it was like you were looking for a job, and you could find three in one day because there was a big need for seasonal employees.”
So, she stayed and continued to work for Village Inn, where she was a manager for several years. Later, she went to work at Winonas, where she still works from time to time when they need extra help.
But through it all, Navarro said she wanted more. She wanted to be able to use her college degree and help others.
After watching an immigrant women struggle to send money home at Walmart, Navarro decided it was time to put her education to use. She landed a job with Northwest Colorado Health as an interpreter and began using her skills to help those who spoke little, or no, English.
“Being an immigrant myself, I understand the challenges and hardships that people face when starting a new life in a foreign country,” Navarro said. “Personally accomplishing the process to obtain U.S. citizenship has given me invaluable experience in immigrants’ rights and the processes associated with gaining citizenship. I am able to share my experiences with those who are tackling the same obstacles, and this has established a strong connection and bond of trust between myself and the immigrant community.”
In April, Navarro stepped into her new position with Integrated Community, a local nonprofit dedicated to promoting and supporting successful integration of immigrant and local community members in Northwest Colorado through education, intercultural exchange and collaboration. In 2018, Integrated Community, with five full-time employees, served more than 1,752 clients from 31 different countries.
Navarro said her language skills and her experience in the customer service and hospitality industry have helped her in her new position.
“I think that working in a restaurant has taught me more than working anywhere else. I can do a lot of things at once. I’m really good with my timing, and that experience helps me to multitask,” Navarro said. “It has also helped me make connections in our community. I know a lot of people from the community. … I have created a lot of relationships.”
Integrated Community board member Millie Beall said the longtime Steamboat organization was lucky to find Navarro.