Tigard woman encourages people to join 'Footsteps For Families' event

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Leonor Garcia is the proud mother of two sons Jose, 8, and Angel, 6.Leonor Garcia was a new parent with a lot of questions back in 2004. What do you do when your child misbehaves? When should you start using time outs with your kids?

New to Oregon, low on money and living in Tigard with no relatives or friends nearby, Garcia had no place to turn. Her husband, Jose Rico, was working hard at his uncle’s landscaping business, and she felt isolated and depressed.

Then she saw a notice announcing a class for first-time parents offered through the Washington County nonprofit Community Action. She signed up and started on a course that would change her life.

“Many places will help you. It’s a temporary fix,” Garcia said. “What I see that works at Community Action is that they educate the low-income community.

“They don’t just give you free food; they give you the education about getting better nutrition with what you have at home. They give you financial education about how to get organized with the little money that you have.”

That education helped her build a brighter future for her family, said Garcia, who now serves on the Board of Directors of Community Action, a partner in the local effort to build strong families and reduce the need for foster care.

Garcia was never in danger of losing her children to foster care, but she knows the challenges of parenting can seem overwhelming, especially when families face multiple stresses, such as homelessness, mental illness and addiction. Community Action helps families get through tough times, preventing child abuse and neglect and reducing the need for foster care, she said.

Garcia married her husband in Oakland, Calif., where they both attended high school. But after their first son, Jose, was born, they wanted to protect him from the gang violence and drug culture that surrounded them there. Tigard seemed to offer them a fresh start.

Soft-spoken but poised and articulate, Garcia said much has changed since she first sought help from Community Action. She took advantage of the agency’s Opening Doors parenting classes, where she and other mothers built friendships while learning how to better parent their children. Counselors came to her home, showing Garcia how to talk with her son about emotions, teaching him self-control and helping her be more relaxed as a parent.

Garcia turned to Community Action for Head Start when her younger son, Angel, was 4. The once insecure mother joined the Policy Council for Head Start, started volunteering for Community Action and eventually joined the agency’s board, where she serves on the finance committee.

Her goal as a board member is to be a voice for the low-income community, but the experience also taught her that she can do more. With a financial match from Community Action, she enrolled at Portland Community College to study business. Taking one class per term — and earning A’s — she believes she’s gaining skills that will make the landscaping business she and her husband operate more successful.

“I feel like I’m not in the same place, even though I’m still low-income,’’ Garcia said. “We’re moving forward, little by little.”

Run will benefit local agencies

Community Action, along with the Domestic Violence Resource Center and Healthy Start of Washington County, will benefit from Footsteps for Families, a 10K/5K and kids run on Saturday at Cook Park in Tigard.

To register, visit

Participants may either walk or run each race. The 10K begins at 9 a.m. and costs $35; the 5K begins at 9:10 a.m. and costs $25. Both races are on paved paths and will be chip-timed.

The three agencies, along with many others, are partners in state and local efforts to safely and equitably reduce the number of children in foster care. The local partnership is led by Martha Brooks, state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, and representatives of Washington County’s Commission on Children and Families, Department of Human Services, Mental Health Department and Juvenile Department.

Jerralynn Ness, executive director of Community Action, says her agency is honored to be chosen as a beneficiary of the run. “We join with these dedicated partners working together to create positive change for Washington County’s foster children as we strive to create a community where all can thrive.”

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