After the sun set last weekend, families gathered at Mike Yokel park for a Jackson/Teton County Parks and Recreation movie night featuring “Incredibles 2.” The film was projected on a big inflatable screen in Spanish, with English subtitles.
The event was part of a new effort on behalf of Parks and Recreation to improve outreach to Latino families, bolstered by the department’s hiring of its first bilingual programmer, Ashley Potzernitz, who stepped into the role at the start of the summer.
“My goal is to make our Latino community feel more welcome and included and just comfortable,” Potzernitz said.
Steve Ashworth, Parks and Recreation director, said the department is seeking to ensure programs reach the entire community. A recently approved strategic plan emphasized the need to improve outreach to the Spanish-speaking demographic.
“We have continued to see that our Latino community isn’t as strongly represented in our programs as we expected them to be, and not proportionate to the numbers of the Latino community is here,” Ashworth said. “There was a disconnect.”
That meant restructuring the programming division to add a bilingual general recreation programmer position.
“The idea was to make sure, we don’t just want to print things in two languages, but we wanted somebody who really was fluent in the language, was really confident in the community and could actually connect through the partners,” Ashworth said. “We were thrilled to get Ashley.”
Potzernitz grew up in Jackson and said she felt that at school “there was a divide between the non-Spanish speaking community and the Spanish speaking community.” She went on to study Spanish in college, including a stint in Spain.
“I think we have this great opportunity to kind of overcome those obstacles and break down that divide,” she said.
Potzernitz has launched a bilingual conversation club, inviting people of all ages to come work on their Spanish and English language skills with games and discussions. Upcoming meetings for the conversation club are Aug. 1 and 20 at the Rec Center from 7 to 8 p.m.
“I wanted a friendly, open, welcoming environment that people could just come meet new people, practice the language,” she said.
Potzernitz also launched the Spanish-language movie night, which was co-sponsored by One22. One22 Development Manager Sarah Shea said the event was packed.
“I think it’s a great accessible event for the entire community,” Shea said. “At One22 that’s a lot of what we’re focused on is bringing our community together. This partnership was a natural fit for us.”
The live action “Jungle Book” film will be shown (this time in English) at the next movie night, Aug. 18 at Owen Bircher Park.
The exchange of cultures is a priority for Potzernitz, who is planning a Day of the Dead celebration in November that she said could include tacos, mariachi music and salsa dancing.
“I love culture and I want to get more people involved and aware of holidays and celebrations and traditions of other people’s culture,” she said. “Because I feel like people can sometimes close themselves off to other ideas or ways of doing things.”