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Washington County Master Recycler graduates are first all-Spanish speaking class.

COURTESY PHOTO - The Master Recycler Program has 28 years of experience with community outreach, teaching lessons in sustainability, waste prevention, toxics, composting and recycling.  Fourteen members of the Latino community graduated June 6 as part of Washington County's first all-Spanish Master Recycler class.

Class 73 was the first community-based, culturally specific course in recycling and sustainability in the county — the first recycling course in the region where every participant spoke Spanish.

The collaboration was made possible by Washington County Solid Waste & Recycling, the Master Recycler Program and Centro Cultural de Washington County. Studies were made more relevant and accessible by considering the Latino community's unique culture, language and needs, which have historically resulted in participation barriers, project leaders said.

"An essential part of our mission at Centro Cultural is to empower members of the community," said Mariana Valenzuela Figueroa, Centro Cultural project manager. "The Master Recycler Spanish class reflects our mission since it is an opportunity for participants to become leaders by using their knowledge to empower others and to improve our environment as well."

Upon graduation, Class 73 joined more than 1,700 volunteers — of which only 75 speak Spanish — making a difference in and around the Portland Metro area.

Class 73's combination of Spanish speaking skills and cultural background will empower them to communicate with more than 96,000 Latinos in the county about sustainability, according to the Washington County Department of Health and Human Services.

"I am heartened to see the Latino community embracing the opportunity to develop a more equitable and sustainable garbage and recycling system," said Theresa Koppang, Solid Waste & Recycling's longtime manager. "As local government agencies, we have the responsibility to correct historical disparities and work toward creating a system that serves the best interests of all Washington County community members."

COURTESY PHOTO - Participants of the program will continue their team work beyond graduation, as well as 30 more hours of volunteering to obtain their Master Recycler certifications. The course consisted of five classroom sessions and two field trips to local recycling facilities. It concluded with conversations between participants, their families and industry experts, identifying and brainstorming solutions to challenges the region faces in creating an equitable, sustainable community.

With graduation behind them, participants will now complete 30 additional volunteer hours to obtain their Master Recycler certification — continuing to meet regularly and maximize the impact of ongoing team projects.

Lauren Norris, Master Recycler Program Coordinator, is excited for the great potential she believes Class 73 possesses and what they will accomplish outside the program.

"I can't wait to see the projects they develop together to help their communities reduce, reuse and recycle," Norris said.

Solid Waste & Recycling is a division of Washington County's Department of Health and Human Services. The division works to ensure equitable service access at a reasonable cost, helping the community make sustainable, healthy choices.


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