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Claudia Yakos is a business owner, volunteer and founder of a nonprofit organization.

COURTESY PHOTO - In 2020, Claudia Yakos founded the nonprofit the Espy Collective, whose first project was helping establish backyard gardens for families facing food insecurity in central Mexico.When Claudia Yakos started working at Tom McCall Elementary School in Forest Grove about 20 years ago, she noticed a need.

There wasn't an adequate system to help Spanish-speaking parents — part of the area's growing Latino community — understand information from school staff and the district, Yakos said.

As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, the language barrier and need to translate for her parents was something she was familiar from early in her childhood, she said.

Her experience working in the counseling office at the school helping translate for families planted the seed that would become the language translation company CIMA Services, which Yakos has run since 2004.

Even though her business took a hit during the pandemic, Yakos stepped up to meet an increased need for digital translation by providing free services for families and organizations.

Yakos' charity through her business is only a small part of the service work she has done in her community and abroad for years.

She has held multiple leadership positions with the Rotary Club of Forest Grove, where she has helped organize community events, including the Annual Rotary Steak Feed Dinner, the Concours d'Elegance Car Show and "Hope for the Holidays," raising money for school programs and people in need.

"What I especially love about Rotary is when you have an idea or a passion for something and you ask for help, people support it to the best of their ability," Yakos said.

The community she has cultivated at the Rotary Club inspired her to take the spirit of volunteerism abroad, she said.

A few years ago, she traveled with the nonprofit Enfoque Ixcán to a remote region of Guatemala, where the organization provided eye care and health education.

"It was such an amazing experience, and I hungered for more," Yakos said.

She later traveled to Mexico with the nonprofit My360Project, which provides shoes made out of flexible canvass that can expand three sizes to kids who can't afford them, Yakos said. She added that because of the uniform requirements in Mexican schools, it's difficult for kids to attend school if they don't have shoes.

Again, the trip magnified her desire to do more.

Last year, Yakos founded a nonprofit of her own, the Espy Collective, which brings together nonprofit professionals and experts to address current issues, she said.

The nonprofit recently conducted its first project, called "Gardens of Hope," which provided 90 families in an impoverished region of central Mexico with kits and technical support to start their own backyard gardens.

"(The pandemic) was hitting the area pretty hard and I just kept hearing about the food scarcity and the loss of income and jobs," Yakos said.

She added that after the gardens were established, some of the families started getting together every other week to share a potluck with the food they grew.

"That really is my passion. It was so incredible to see," Yakos said.

She hopes to keep the Espy Collective's projects versatile, noting she didn't want to the nonprofit to be boxed into working on only one issue. Yakos said she will rely on her ability to network with skilled problem-solvers to take on new projects.

Her work in business, nonprofit and volunteer projects comes from a belief that if people can help others, they must, she said.

"All we can do here is when we have the opportunity to serve and to help, we serve and we help," Yakos said. "We show everyone kindness because everybody is important." 

Editor's note: This feature originally appeared in Pamplin Media Group's 2021 Community Heroes special publication.

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