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Roanoke woman works to bridge gap between Spanish speaking community

ROANOKE VALLEY, Va. (WFXR News) - A Venezuela native is working to bridge the gap between the Spanish and non-Spanish speaking community in Roanoke. 

Born and raised in Venezuela, Dr. Elda Stanco Downey moved to Chicago in 1994 to go to College. She says her transition was easy because she went to an English speaking school in Venezuela, but there were some things she had to adjust to.

"The food, the gatherings at local cafes to meet friends. Just different ways of operating culturally that were not a shock, necessarily, but just a relearning of how to do certain social interactions without losing the ones that you're used to," said Dr. Stanco Downey.

She ended up in Roanoke in 2004 after grad school to become a professor. 

"Which seems like yesterday, but 14 years is a long time so I consider Roanoke my home now," Dr. Stanco Downey said.

She taught at two different institutions.

In December 2013 she started Roanoke Spanish a company that brings info about the Spanish language and culture to the community.

"For me it means opening doors, making friends, making good community relations, making our space in Roanoke a more global space that's attractive to Hispanics who move here," said Dr. Stanco Downey. 

"That's attractive to folks who live here and want to be exposed to other cultures without having to leave home."

She says it seemed like there was an influx of Hispanic people moving into the area and their needs weren't getting met, needed services weren't available and there was a lack of connection and communication. So they stepped in to facilitate the communication.

"I think we've been able to bridge so many spaces where communication was not available. We've been able to bring a voice to the Hispanic community in Roanoke, and we've made it a friendly interaction," said Dr. Stanco Downey.

They've been able to teach more about the Hispanic culture, and her reach goes beyond her business.

"Elda is a tremendous board member of Local Colors and has been a great resource for us in reaching out to the Latinx community in Roanoke," said Local Colors Executive Director Beth Lutjen.

The groups collaborated on a lunch and learn workshop to help make workplaces more inclusive for the Spanish speaking community.

"What we do in this workshop is give non-profit executives and other members of the organizations' tools to work successfully with Hispanics within the organization as well as how to reach out into the Hispanic community and offer their services," Dr. Stanco Downey said.

It's a workshop that Roanoke City HR Manager Angelia Vernon said will help with things like recruiting. 

"That's an area for us within the organizations where we're always looking to diversify and make sure we're mirroring in the community that we serve," said Vernon.

The workshop was held as part of the company's Hispanic heritage celebration.

Roanoke Spanish also hosts a "Spanish Conversation" lunch hour every Friday for anyone who wants to practice the language. 


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