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9/19/2012 4:09:00 PM
Adelante Mujeres celebrates 10 years of helping Latinos 'rise up'
Lucilene Lira teaches salsa lessons during the celebration.
Lucilene Lira teaches salsa lessons during the celebration.
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Karina Villalobos is a participant in the Adelante Agricultura program.
Girls find support through Adelante Mujeres
Araceli Ortiz’s high school years were anything but normal as compared to her peers growing up in Washington County.

She spent her days in the classroom like any other teenager, but after the bell rang, she went to work, covering 8–hour graveyard shifts that ended at 3 a.m. The child of Mexican-origin sojourners who came to the United States to find better employment opportunities, Ortiz and her family struggled initially with economic and social integration.

“We experienced the typical immigrant lifestyle,” Ortiz said. “My family was pretty lost, not knowing the language and system, so that was a challenging time, living in raw poverty, without any support here.”

The family lived out of their car for six months, while Ortiz’s parents both worked two or three jobs. As a youngster, she sat in the fields while they picked strawberries.

Eventually, they earned better-paying jobs in restaurants, and Ortiz would spend her afternoons and evenings after school was over in restaurant breakrooms playing with toys and, later, doing homework.

Luckily, Ortiz found support through Adelante Mujeres, a Forest Grove-based nonprofit with a mission to educate and empower low-income Latina women and their families. The organization’s name means rise up women.

Ortiz credits dedicated teachers at her high school, for helping her negotiate the complicated processes of gaining citizenship and applying for colleges and financial aid. She went on to Linfield College, and afterward started her professional career leading young women in the Adelante Chicas program. She has since moved on to a position at her alma mater, Linfield.

The percentage of Hispanics in Washington County has grown, 16 percent in the 2011 census count, and in cities like Woodburn (38 percent) or Cornelius (50 percent), the number of Latinos is much higher.

As the number of high school students in situations like Ortiz’s grows, it becomes harder for them to access personalized help in things like applying for citizenship or colleges.

That’s why organizations like Adelante are so important, Ortiz said. They are teaching young women to be proud of their heritage – learning about their culture, the Spanish language and where their families come from.

“They are getting that message that it’s OK to be yourself, but it’s also OK to want to fit in because that’s a natural part of humanity, but you can do it without losing or compromising who you are,” Ortiz said. “You just need to own it.”

Clarice Keating
Of the Catholic Sentinel

Organizers called the event "A Decade of Success."

Adelante Mujeres, a nonprofit that educates and empowers low-income Latina women and their families, celebrated 10 years of service with a party in downtown Forest Grove, where the agency-run farmer’s market sets up each week. During the event, speakers shared thanks for the services provided by the organization, and visitors viewed displays showing the agency's successes.

Founded by Sister Barbara Raymond and Bridget Cooke, the organization operated out of Sister Barbara’s home and then the rectory at St. Anthony Church. With support from the Sisters of the Holy Names, the community where Sister Barbara is a professed Religious, Adelante Mujeres was able to move into an office and has continued to grow steadily. Today, the organization serves more than 450 families.

Adelante started in 2000 as a program under the auspices of Centro Cultural, a social action organization in Cornelius. At the time, Centro Cultural was offering English language classes, but most of the students were men. Raymond and Cooke began brainstorming ideas to draw in more Latina women. They theorized that if they could help the Latina women in Washington County, the positive impacts would benefit the rest of the family.

Although most of the women served by Centro Cultural shared a common country of origin and language, Sister Barbara discovered they spent much their time isolated in their homes. Their extended family and friends were in Mexico. They were isolated by language (many did not speak English), and their children, who often translated for them, were gone at school all day.

Sister Barbara and Cooke invited people to lead educational seminars on topics like access to services, rights, nutrition, diet, reconciliation, forgiveness, and even parenting.

“These women were raised in situations where poverty was so great that their parents basically worked all day, then put food on table, and then went back out to work,” Sister Barbara said.  

“They didn’t know how to talk to children to build literacy, they didn’t know how to play with children,” she said. Most importantly, the women often worked so much that they had little time to spend with their children. “I remember asking one woman, ‘How much time do you spend with your daughter? She said 15 minutes, and I asked ‘Per day?’ Mom said, ‘No, each month.’” Sister Barbara said.

Folk art was the program’s first offering. The women shared traditional crafting techniques, from embroidery or sewing, design and use of color, Aztec and Mayan designs were prevalent in the art. But the women were not just crafting, they were sharing stories and learning from one another.

Young children began showing up at the sessions, so Adelante established a preschool program — a precursor to the organization’s Early Childhood Education Program that guides children in early literacy skills and builds kindergarten readiness.

As the families blossomed, so too did Adelante. The first year of Adelante’s independence from Centro Cultural, the program’s budget was $138,240. Over the next nine fiscal years, Adelante would grow its budget to more than $900,000.

Education for young women is the central focus of Adelante Chicas, the first youth development program in Oregon to provide a proactive approach to empower Latina girls in grades 3-12 with culturally relevant after-school programming and community involvement opportunities.

In addition to working with women, girls and young children, Adelante has grown to include a financial literacy program that provides access to individual development accounts. Journey to College tackles the low graduation rates among Latino teens by promoting a pro-college culture for students and their families through education, financial literacy training and matched savings accounts. Adelante Empresas is a small business development program that offers training and marketing opportunities to aspiring Latino entrepreneurs.

Fair access to food is another issue Adelante addresses through its Adelante Agricultura, Nourish the Community, and Forest Grove Farmers Market programs.

Led by Alejandro Tecum, Adelante’s Agricultura program trains Latino farmers in organic agriculture by teaching chemical-free farming methods and ecological land management. The farmers, in turn, are invited to sell at the market, in downtown Forest Grove on Wednesday afternoons.  

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