There may be no Ecuadorian culture group at Yale, but an active community in New Haven is helping children connect with the traditions of the South American country.

Over the past few years, New Haven Ecuadorian community leaders have become aware that first generation Americans are quickly growing away from their heritage. To address the growing trend of Americanization, the Community School of Integration and Development, an after-school program started in September, teach children Spanish, Ecuadorian history and geography.

“We need to rescue the Ecuadorian identity,” said community leader Dixon Jimenez, “otherwise, they are foreigners to their own country.”

La Escuela Comunitaria de Integración y Desarrollo, or the Community School of Integration and Development, is a new after-school program that began this September to teach American born children of Ecuadorian descent about their heritage.

According to Jimenez, this program is a purely community-based initiative started by parents of kids in Club Independiente, a soccer club, and came to fruition with only funds raised by the community.

The first semester of the program lasted for seven weeks with classes on Mondays and Wednesdays from 5-7 p.m. in the NeighborWorks New Horizons Family Learning Center at 311 Poplar Street. The 11 students in the pilot program range in age from 7 to 11 years old, Jimenez said.

“Because these children are growing up in an English-speaking country, the program includes Spanish classes as well,” Jimenez said. He added that the program assesses students’ Spanish-speaking abilities and places them in either level one or level two.

“The language cultural program is for children to learn and stay connected to Ecuadorian heritage. It is designed to cultivate multi-generation connection,” said Alicia Camacho, professor of American Studies at Yale and co-chair of the board of directors of Junta for Progressive Action, a Latin American community advocacy group.

After a successful first semester, Jimenez said, the program is trying to work with the National Secretariat for Migrants in Ecuador for funding to develop the program the second phase that will last three months.

Jimenez said he hopes that the second semester, which is set to begin in June of 2011, will last three months and expand to include Spanish classes for adults.

Outside of the classroom, soccer is another link to Latin American heritage. Along with the growing focus on maintaining a cultural community, the soccer league started by Ecuadorian Community Virgen del Cisne has now grown to include 26 men’s teams, eight women’s teams and about nine to 11 youth teams, said Jimenez. According to Elio Cruz, the general coordinator of Virgen del Cisne, soccer games at Rice Field in East Rock Park and gathering at the church bring families together every Sunday and help maintain strong family relationships in the community. “These games are family events. I’ve seen cases where the father plays while the mother and the children watch, and later the parents watch the children play, all in the same day,” said Jimenez, who was also the former secretary of the Ecuadorian Community Virgen del Cisne.

Camacho also mentioned that maintaining family unity when one member of the family immigrates first is one of the contemporary challenges that the Ecuadorian faces as a community because . Nevertheless, she admires the organization and activism of the Ecuadorian community.

“It’s a tremendous privilege to see these community partnerships the sense commitment people bring when they settle here,” Camacho said.

Although there is an Ecuadorian community in the greater New Haven area, they do not have a prominent presence on campus, said Lorenzo Ramos-Mucci ’12, secretary of the Latin American Student Organization and whose father is from Ecuador.

“At Yale, the Ecuadorian community is rather small; in fact there is no real Ecuadorian-advocacy group,” he said.

Ladi Mina, the current Ms. Ecuador is set to visit New Haven on December 11 to talk to the American-born children of Ecuadorians in order to familiarize them with the culture of their parents’ motherland.