The city’s new bilingual communications specialist is working to bridge cultural barriers the way her family did when they came to the area.
When she was 15, Claudia Colichon’s parents won a U.S. government lottery for a visa granting permanent resident status and moved from Peru to metro Atlanta.
“We lived in a third-world country and had heard about the American dream, so we decided to come here,” said Colichon, the city of Brookhaven’s new public engagement specialist.
She and her family first moved to Chamblee, where they had family, before they were able to buy a house in Loganville. There, Colichon attended Grayson High School and Georgia State University, where she got her degree in political science.
Before coming to Brookhaven in June, she worked as Chamblee’s community outreach specialist, serving as the bilingual liaison between the Latino community and city government. She’s taken the skills she learned there and transferred them to Brookhaven, where approximately 25 percent of the city’s 50,000 residents are Latino.
“I’m here as a liaison between the community and the municipality, especially our underserved residents, the Latinos who live in Brookhaven,” she said. “We want to help break down those barriers.”
Last year, Mayor John Ernst and the City Council decided to invest in outreach and communications in a dedicated effort to reach as many of the stakeholders as possible, but primarily residents, said Communications Director Burke Brennan.
This includes a larger presence on social media, sending out regular press releases and maintaining a weekly email newsletter that goes out to 10,000 subscribers.
“With the addition of Claudia we are able to reach residents we’ve previously been unable to reach,” he said.
Currently Colichon is spending time translating press releases into Spanish to send to Spanish-language media outlets. She’s also translating the city’s new Activity Guide and monthly newsletter into Spanish.
“We have in reality at a local level in Brookhaven and in other cities across America … residents, citizens, that are here and have a language barrier,” Brennan said. “We serve all taxpayers, all citizens, and we are trying to break down barriers.
“We’re in the business of serving residents, and to that end that includes making our information available to them,” he said.
Added Colichon, “We want all our residents to have the same opportunities to know what’s going on and the activities being offered by the city.”
Providing this outreach to Latino and Hispanic residents is also a special cause for Colichon. When she and her family moved from Peru, her parents spoke only some English, and learning about the basic services their new city of Chamblee provided proved very difficult.
“Ten years ago, we would have loved to have someone [in the city] help us,” she said.
Understanding this struggle for families moving into a new city and not speaking English spurred Colichon to pitch her idea to Chamblee officials about its need for a community outreach coordinator. The city has approximately 29,000 residents and 43 percent speak Spanish, according to the city’s website.
“I told them that I know the struggle and how hard it is … to feel welcome and to have someone understand,” she said.
But Colichon is not only focusing her outreach in Brookhaven to Latino residents. She’s also visiting homeowners associations and other neighborhood and community groups to let them know what kinds of resources the city provides while also listening to their concerns, which she can bring back to City Hall.
“The city wants to come to them on their terms,” she said. “We want to be there. We want them to invite us to their HOA meetings or other meetings so we can listen and bring their information back.”