CLUES helps Austin’s Hispanic, minority communities find a “bridge” of support

Published 8:29 am Saturday, December 15, 2018

When Jaime Vazquez immigrated to Austin in 1999 from Mexico, he didn’t know anyone in the community, and was intimidated by the challenges ahead for his new life as an American.

However, he credited a new nonprofit in town that clued him in on everything he needed to start his new life.

The new office location for CLUES has been set up downstairs at 110 Main St. N. This is the place where clients can meet with Jose Rivera, the new career development navigator and community liaison for the nonprofit organization in Austin, and get connections into the city.

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“I knew Jaime very well,” Rivera said. “He was a good participant, and he needed help finding a job. I said ‘CLUES provides that help.’”

CLUES (which stands for Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicios) started in Austin in September, and is located on the ground floor of the same building that houses the Welcome Center. However, the roots of the organization were planted in 1981 by members of the Hispanic community with the goal of connecting individuals and families to resources, which also helps create an environment for people to be engaged and empowered.

Rivera, who immigrated from Honduras, worked full-time at U.S. Bank for a year before being approached by the CLUES headquarters in the Twin Cities to help lead a new branch office down in Austin. He also served as a success coach for the Austin Public Schools District.

Before CLUES started in Austin, Rivera said life for an immigrant with no personal ties to the city would have struggled without having a community to support them through transition and change, facing potential isolation.

“It’s so important,” Rivera said. “We want to show the community that there is help for people who are searching for it, and that it helps them stay in Austin. We want someone to say ‘There’s somebody in Austin who can help me.’”

There are two offices in the Twin Cities, with Austin being the third office location in southeast Minnesota.

Despite having only started offering services in Austin in September, individuals who have been assisted by the organization have interviewed successfully for jobs and created resumes with CLUES assistance. A computer lab of about nine computers is situated next door from the Austin office, and individuals can come Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and print out things they need for free.

There are workshops that discuss protecting assets such as preparing taxes or renewing their ITIN, or having conversations about preventing foreclosure and finding ways to keep up with mortgage payments. CLUES also offers housing counseling and small business support with creating business plans and talking about employer ID registration. Those searching for jobs can get counseling as well as guidance in successful resume-building and interviewing skills.

So far, Rivera is the only person who operates CLUES in Austin, and hopes that eventually there will be more staff members who would keep the office open while he serves out in the community.

CLUES also brings in professionals such as lawyers or health experts to talk about healthy ways to express emotion, or to discuss the immigration process, and answer questions regarding status as well as give free legal advice.

“Before CLUES, we had nothing,” Vazquez said. “They did everything, and they have everything you need. Before, you had to look after yourself, and had no translators. We got help with Rivera, and we have CLUES.”

Jose Rivera heads the nonprofit CLUES, which helps the Hispanic community get access to business tools.

When Vazquez first immigrated to Austin, he remembered traveling from Los Angeles to Minneapolis on a plane, and stayed up all night at a coffee shop “ordering about 20 coffees” to wait for a morning bus to get down to Austin from the Twin Cities. “I didn’t have family there, and I had nothing there,” he recalled.

After meeting Riveras at Riverland Community College, where he first learned about CLUES a couple months ago, Vazquez attended five workshops to learn more about how to obtain employment and make a better life for himself.

“Rivera helped me start looking for jobs at Hy-Vee, Perkins and Walmart,” he said. On Oct. 25, Vazquez was hired at Select Foods, and has since been holding down his job, and credits Rivera for that assistance.

Other than providing community member workshops and other resources such as legal advice about immigration, how to successfully obtain a job interview and more, Rivera also hopes CLUES will serve as a bridge to bring communities together and where strangers become neighbors.

There were a lot of things Vazquez is thankful for, including Rivera and having CLUES in town.

“I feel good to have services in Austin,” he told Rivera. “I hope you keep this office open. It was an experience, and CLUES did help me. I met many people, and CLUES helped me be a part of the Austin community.”