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Celebration is a big focus, but Centro is also looking to the future by listening to young residents.

COURTESY PHOTO: CENTRO CULTURAL - This historic photo from the 1980s celebrates the opening of the first Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center. For 50 years, Centro Cultural de Washington County has supported Latino families with health and education resources, as well as free food and entertainment. Centro Cultural de Washington County, the nonprofit organization envisioned by a group of migrant farmworker families in 1972, turns 50 years old this year.

The organization says it will celebrate the progress that it's made for the Latino community through a series of events and community gatherings this year, including ones that will position it for another 50 years of progress — but it's also looking back at its five-decade history of activism.

"We've come this far, 50 years later, and every decade is about continuing the mission of the organization," said executive director Maria Caballero-Rubio.

The past

The Cornelius-based organization has become an iconic resource for Washington County residents. From its annual Ballet Folklórico and seasonal celebrations like its Christmas pageant and Dia de los Muertos festival, Centro Cultural has been a place for people of all backgrounds to gather for decades.

It was envisioned as a resource for people to get their health and economic needs addressed, so it's long been a place for all Latinos to gather and get crucial resources — from food and pediatric checkups to after-school support. It's hosted countless banquets and programs geared toward addressing these needs of underrepresented communities.

During a time when many Hispanic residents of Washington County worked on local farms and returned to their homes in poorly planned and maintained migrant worker camps, these were the first crucial services that Centro provided for families. COURTESY PHOTO: CENTRO CULTURAL - A shot from the migrant camps in the 1980s. It was migrant farmworkers living in these kinds of communities who founded Centro Cultural in 1972. Its goal is to provide economic and health benefits to the underrepresented Hispanic residents of Washington County.

But it's also embedded itself into the fabric of Washington County government and its local communities. From partnerships with local school districts and businesses, Centro has grown into one of the biggest social services organizations in the region.

It is also an affiliate of Unidos U.S., the oldest civil rights organization for Latinos in the nation.

Just one sign of its growth can be found in the opening of its Free Food Mercado a couple of months ago — a food pantry that looks and feels more like a grocery store, so families can shop with dignity as they take advantage of produce and canned goods supplied from individual donations, as well as local stores and farms.

It reaches about 700 families per month, Centro says, and it plans to keep growing this service to address food insecurity in Washington County.

It's open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., located at 1216 E. Baseline St.

The future

That just scratches the surface of Centro's history, but organizers are using the group's 50th not to look back, but to look forward.

It's established a new endowment fund, with the goal of raising $1 million by next year so it can support the community's economic development.

And as Centro plans for the future, the generation that will inherit the future is playing a vital role in visualizing it, Caballero-Rubio said.

Centro is forming a new youth advisory committee, which will meet monthly for up to six months in order to come up with a plan for future projects by the nonprofit. COURTESY PHOTO: CENTRO CULTURAL  - Centro Cultural de Washington County has always prioritized youth programs and engagement. Its new youth advisory committee will steer how the nonprofit invests $1 million in its newly established endowment, organizers say.

The endowment money will essentially go toward whatever projects those young committee members say are important for their future. The idea is to give young residents of Washington County a hand in shaping the future of Centro.

"We decided that we would look at the next 50 years to see what the community really wants Centro to be and do in the future," said Caballero-Rubio. "We're really excited about that."

Party time

The actual 50th Anniversary Celebration — the big "Summer Cincuenta" party celebrating the legacy of Centro — will take place on July 30 at Shute Park in Hillsboro. It's free and will feature all the vibrant food, music and dancing that previous Centro events have offered. COURTESY PHOTO: CENTRO CULTURAL - A shot from the Ballet Folklorico in the 1990s, an annual celebration of Latino culture and music. This is just one of the free events hosted by Centro Cultural de Washington County every year.

The Cincuenta will also feature remarks from Centro leaders both past and present, including some of the original founders. Centro will also have a big float at the annual Fourth of July parade, celebrating its 50 years of operation.

Then, in the fall, Centro will host an economic symposium, aimed at identifying what Oregon's economic growth will look like and how Washington County's Latino residents can play a big part in that economy.

The details are still being hashed out, said Caballero-Rubio, but the event will feature national leaders, potentially even some members of President Joe Biden's administration. The event will also detail how Latinos, and particularly migrant workers in Washington County and elsewhere, built up the U.S. economy.

Finally, Centro's annual culmination event in March will be the deadline to raise that $1 million for the endowment, which was created through the Oregon Community Foundation. It's also a time when final fundraising for the nonprofit's operational budget occurs.

People can make donations to Centro Cultural de Washington County at that event or any time of the year through its website.

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