Leadership institute finds its relationship with the community is improving, but needs Jorge Martinez's expertise to document evidence of that

A growing enthusiasm among Latino farmworkers to participate in politics and civic engagement is about to get even bigger, a local nonprofit organization said this week.

CAPACES Leadership Institute, a group that assists immigrants and farmworker by: SUBMITTED - Jorge Martinez, pictured with his daughter, Jimena, is the newest employee of CAPACES Leadership Institute. His position as evaluation project assistant is funded through a grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust.communities, has used recent grant money to hire an assistant to evaluate their efficacy — a move that will bring even greater momentum to an already burgeoning movement, group leaders said.

“One of our challenges being a leadership institute is that teaching leadership doesn’t have a very beautiful photograph to represent it,” said Rosi Barker, CAPACES’ director of development. “So it’s challenging to visually represent what we do.”

Although CAPACES has created a huge impact on the Woodburn community, she said, the organization has no quantitative evidence to document it.

That’s where Jorge Martinez comes in.

The former program developer with OSU Extension Service will now be appointed as CAPACES’ evaluation project assistant. The new hire, who has ties to Gaunajuato and Nuevo Leon, will use meticulous methods to examine the way the group functions. He will use tools to generate data, crunch numbers, administer surveys and determine ways to make the organization stronger.

The goal is twofold: first, improve the efficacy of CAPACES’ programs, which include things like leadership and fundraising courses, social justice gatherings and high school outreach initiatives; secondly, to generate data about the organization to show to potential benefactors and funding sources.

The effort, paid for by a $200,000 grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust, will ensure greater longevity for the organization, Barker said.

Impacting the community

There has been a flurry of recent political interest, she said, among Woodburn’s immigrant and farmworking sector to get involved in the community.

Barker attributes a big part of this movement to a class called CAPACES 101, which teaches participants about Latino history, farmworkers’ rights, fundraising and other political and social justice issues. It also shows participants how they can get involved in their communities and explains why they should.

As an example of its impact, she cites a seminar where midway through the five-week course, a group of participants decided to get involved in the Woodburn mural project. They rallied the community, collected a bunch of signatures and went before Woodburn City Council to advocate for the cause. The result of their efforts, along with those of other Woodburn residents, was a special committee being created for the mural project.

Barker said the widespread involvement is a striking shift in attitude for a community that has long been disconnected from the political system.

“For Latinos, they’re typically not going to (get involved with) government because they have historically found that they’re not listened to, so they just don’t bother,” Barker said. “So this taught people, ‘Hey look, we have a voice, we can do something, and we can make changes.’”

The result has been a positive change not only for farmworkers, but the community of Woodburn in general, as well as other unrelated communities. During the painting of the mural, for example, they ended up with more than 200 volunteers, including a Jewish group from New York, a French intern, a diverse group of high school students, families and professors.

“It’s created this synergy of all of these different people recognizing each other and getting together,” Barker said.

Another group to have taken notice is The Estates Golf and Country Club. Upon witnessing the passion and drive of CAPACES’ participants, Barker said, the senior group hopped on board, assisting with the mural project and attending its unveiling. CAPACES then helped The Estates with a campaign to protect the sequoia trees on Highway 214.

Following the mutual collaboration, Estates residents invited the CAPACES-affiliated group Mujeres Luchadoras Progresistas to set up a booth at their invite-only Christmas bazaar.

Barker said the invitation indicated a major change in the way The Estates, as well as other residents of Woodburn, are beginning to view the farmworker community.

“It’s like they’ve just awoken to the fact that there’s this group of people who happen to be largely Latino and happen to be from a largely farmworker background that are, you know, really making a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “They see it and they buy into that vision. ... I think what’s important is that they reflect an attitude change and a change of heart. That is exciting.”

Creating an identity

For participants in CAPACES’ programs, the rewards extend beyond simple leadership skills, Barker said. The programs also give participants an opportunity to understand and embrace their cultural identity in a more concrete way.

“When someone better understands their identity, it creates a stronger sense of self confidence and purpose,” she said.

Cultural identity is elusive for many parts of the Woodburn community, Barker noted, adding that it can be particularly hard on young children.

“With Latinos who might have come here when they were 5 or maybe 10 years old, they’ve grown up in a culture that oftentimes they don’t identify as their own,” she said. “So by teaching a class on (Latino history) and participating in discussions and immersing yourself in leadership in a community of Latinos, there’s this integration that begins to form a solidarity of spirit.

“It’s not anything about ‘Latinos versus Caucasians’ but rather, ‘Who am I?’ And once you know who you are and you are stepping out in who you are ... people can accomplish so much more.”

Barker said lack of identity is a big reason Latino youth in the Valley often get into trouble with crime and drugs.

Laura Isiordia, executive director for CAPACES, agreed.

“When the students arrive from another country to a culture that’s very different from theirs, it’s very easy to get off track by not having the support that is needed,” Isiordia said.

It can be difficult, she said, for children of immigrant parents to integrate into school. Aside from the cultural challenges, there are also economic factors at play for young newcomers. They don’t have the same clothes or the right shoes, she noted. They look different and have a hard time connecting, Isiordia said.

Offering them a space to come together, as many of CAPACES-affiliated programs do, gives them a safe haven and a “safety net” they can’t find anywhere else, Isiordia added.

Barker said giving them those opportunities ends up benefiting the community at large.

“We’ve found that when they are given a sense of cultural identity, it’s so grounding that it lowers crime rates, it increases graduations rates,” Barker said. “It’s just fact.”

The development director added that helping both children and adults find this connection with themselves is what makes her most excited about the work she does.

“For me to participate in something that helps people understand their identity and become the person that they’re created to be — not only as in, ‘Hey, I have this heritage’ but also just understanding the way that their heart beats — I think that’s phenomenal.”

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