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Facilitators for Better Together, Ruby Ruiz and Esmeralda Lopez, have come on board to work alongside the children, youth, and Hispanic families in Prineville

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - Pictured from left: Esmeralda Lopez, DJ Hubert Vargas, and Ruby Ruiz. The trio paused for a photo during the 'Viva Mexico' celebration held at Pioneer Park on Sept. 17. Lopez and Ruiz are facilitators for Prineville for the Family Council model for Better Together of Central Oregon.Prineville has an active organization to support Hispanic families in the Prineville area, and they are helping families to overcome language barriers, which often includes schools and services in the community.

In June 2020, Better Together recruited Ruby Ruiz and Esmeralda Lopez to come on board and work alongside the children, youth and families in Prineville. Better Together is nonprofit organization, and their mission is to activate networks across sectors and communities to transform the systems that serve children, youth and families.

They work collectively to identify gaps in opportunities and to build knowledge and align strategies so that they can act together to change policy and practices, so children and youth experience a sense of belonging. They also want to ensure that there are no disparities in education outcomes, and that youth are equipped to travel the road to meeting their full potential.

The trajectory in creating desired outcomes begins with supported families, early care, kindergarten readiness, third grade literacy, middle school attendance, eighth grade math, ninth grade on track, high school completion, early work experiences and training beyond high school. Ultimately, these lead to a meaningful career.

The partners within the Better Together community is far-reaching and encompasses businesses and organizations throughout Central Oregon, with just under 100 partners.

"A lot of our families don't have access to social media, and seven out of the 13 families that we have don't have social media," commented Prineville Facilitator for Better Together, Ruby Ruiz.

They often rely on Ruiz and Lopez to provide a connection to the resources to the community. Their responsibilities include facilitating conversations with families to collaborate with them in a neutral role, while being respectful and sensitive to different cultures and languages and different perspectives.

"We hold a space for the Hispanic families, and we hold a space for the families to vent and let us know what they are in search of and see happening differently," added Ruiz.

With the help of funding from Oregon Community Foundation (OCF), Better Together designed and launched the Family Council model and started what is a long-term transformative and incredible space for families and students to feel valued, heard and honored in their own culture.

"At the core, we wanted to flip the script on community engagement," commented Rutila Galvan-Rodriquez, executive director for Better Together. "In the current practice of community engagement, we go to families to teach them, fix them, or because the system needs something from them, like to validate the system's ideas."

She went on to say, "Removing barriers means we let the families design how they want to and can connect. We step out of the way of wanting to lead, and support families to step in to guide the conversations themselves. In our approach, we center families and learn from them. We support the conditions for families to use their own voice and to lead in their way. We honor and hold space for the community to lead, support their role to bridge to leadership and collective capacity."

Ruiz and Lopez are the voice for those families who have barriers due to English language skills. Ruiz indicated that sometimes they provide help in barriers on the school district level, including associated technology barriers. She gave the example of the difficulties for many families during the pandemic when the Chromebooks were provided to all students.

"Just basically connecting the kids to the Zoom was a big barrier for them," noted Ruiz.

She and Lopez held a meeting and showed the families how to access Zoom and the link. This was one of the services they provided during this difficult time.

Galvan-Rodiquez added that family councils develop their own priorities for schools and invite district and community leaders to engage with them — they set the terms, and they create their protocols and structure for their meetings.

Lopez and Ruiz are currently connecting with the local chamber of commerce to be more connected with community events, like the Annual Lighted Christmas Parade.

"They (their clients) want to do things like that, they want to be involved in the community and to be involved with the community events, but they just don't know where to go or how to start, so that is when we have been introducing them to the chamber of commerce," said Ruiz.

They also show them how to go about projects such as selling food at events and similar tasks. They recently facilitated and hosted an event at the Ochoco Park, "Viva Mexico," which was a celebration of the Mexican Independence Day.

The Prineville Hispanic Family Council and Better Together held the festive event on Saturday, Sept. 17, at Pioneer Park to celebrate Mexico Independence Day. The event was to celebrate the Mexican heritage for the youth in the community, and the festivities included live music with a mariachi band and live music with DJ Hubert Vargas, dancing, piñatas, plenty of food and activities for the family. It also included face painting and Mexican Bingo.

"Overall, I think we had a really good outcome and I had really positive feedback given by the community," said Ruiz.

She indicated the festival was the first of its kind, and the are hoping to have more attendance in the future.

"The families were very pleased. It was a community effort — it was not just a couple of us doing the whole event together, so the event was made possible by the families themselves."

She added that they foresee having more booths and information the next time, and they are currently collaborating with more community partners.

Ruiz indicated that it is helpful to have an individual at a business or organization to be a point of contact for folks who need someone who speaks Spanish.

"I know that it is not always going to be the case, because there is not always a person that speaks the Spanish language at this location or that location, but for the most part, I think the families tend to get around with bringing someone that they know."

She said that dealing with legal issues is one of the most difficult for many of her clients. They try to connect them with community partners that they are aware of that can help them with forms and legal documents. For things that need filled out online, it is challenging if the client does not have the technology or skills. Ruiz and Lopez help with these and many other issues.

The program is open to the community and accepting new members, and Ruiz and Lopez encourage interested people to reach out to them.

"What Esmeralda and Ruby have done in their community is so powerful," concluded Galvan-Rodriquez. "They trusted Better Together by allowing us to support them from a distance. They hold space for everyone to be heard and feel valued. I am in awe of their leadership."

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To reach out and contact Esmeralda Lopez or Ruby Ruiz:

Esmeralda Lopez, Better Together Facilitator This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Facebook- Esme Lopez

Ruby Ruiz, Better Together Facilitator This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Facebook- Ruby Ruiz


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