Adelante Mujeres: Empowering the heart of the community
By Julie Cortez, El Hispanic News
Forest Grove, OR — During a recent strategic planning retreat, an Adelante Mujeres staff member suggested that Oregon’s first Latina governor might currently be enrolled in the organization’s Adelante Chicas program.
The response from Cecilia Girón, director of Adelante Chicas, was a simple, “Why not?”
“We need to let our chicas dream and dream big,” she says. “But also there’s work to be done, and I truly believe that Adelante Mujeres is doing that work.”
While its reach has expanded since its inception in 2002 — in addition to working with adult women and school-age girls, it offers programs for small children and both male and female entrepreneurs and farmers — Adelante Mujeres continues as an expression of one basic theory: help a woman reach her full potential, and she will elevate everyone around her.
“Adelante Mujeres believes that if you educate a woman, you educate the entire family, and the entire community benefits,” Girón says.
Those benefits were on display last month when the organization marked its 10th anniversary with a celebration that drew over 3,000 people to the Forest Grove Farmers Market, which Adelante Mujeres has managed since 2005.
“We wanted it to be a real community celebration,” says Adelante Mujeres cofounder and executive director Bridget Cooke, “and we wanted it definitely to be accessible to everyone.”
In addition to accessibility, the venue also offered a chance to showcase just how much the organization has grown and diversified over the last decade. About a quarter of the farmers market vendors are enrolled in Adelante Empresas — which supports aspiring Latino entrepreneurs — or Adelante Agricultura, a training program for Latino farmers wishing to learn about organic farming and sustainable land management.
Both programs are open to women and men, and while there has been discussion of whether the organization merits a name change due to its more inclusive programming, Cooke likes “Adelante Mujeres” because it is a recognizes the essential and formative role of Latina women in their families and communities.
“There’s still a high need for that,” she insists.
Cofounded by Cooke and Sister Barbara Raymond, Adelante Mujeres emerged a 10 years ago out of a leadership development project at Centro Cultural in Cornelius. Cooke and Raymond grew up in rural Oregon communities — Raymond in St. Paul and Cooke in Woodburn and Yamhill — and both had backgrounds in education and Catholic social justice efforts. While working at Centro Cultural, they observed that Latinas — particularly Latina immigrants — wielded strong influence within the home, but didn’t always “have the cultural support and the social support to flourish as individuals,” Cooke says.
With input from local Latinas, they started a pilot project to empower and connect women at Centro Cultural. It quickly became clear that a “larger and more impactful endeavor” would be welcomed and needed, and Adelante Mujeres ventured out on its own.
In the early days, Cooke recalls, “We spent a fair amount of time listening in terms of what was important for [the women] and what the challenges were to their growth” — such as a lack of childcare during classes, traditional gender roles that limited their activity outside the home, low self-esteem, and an absence of clear personal goals. While the women typically came to this country for the good of their children, Cooke adds, “Often times they didn’t think about how their own growth would impact their children.”
In response, Adelante Mujeres offered preschool so mothers could bring their young children with them to their classes, which were scheduled while the older kids were off at school. Staff would visit women’s homes to become acquainted with husbands and discuss how their wives’ development would benefit the whole family.
“This wasn’t us coming in and saying, ‘We’re going to empower your spouse and she’s going to leave you behind,’” Cooke says.
The classes, which emphasized academic development — English, GED completion — and personal growth — leadership, childrearing — represented Adelante Mujeres’ holistic approach to education and empowerment.
“Education is not just going to help you get a better job,” Cooke says, “it’s really going to help you become a more whole person.”
When Girón shares a similar message with the girls of the Adelante Chicas, she speaks from a place of conviction and experience. After her family moved to the U.S. from Oaxaca, they worked as migrant farm workers in California, Oregon, and Idaho before settling in Forest Grove to provide her the stability she’d need to finish high school.
Girón credits the mentors in her life for praising her intelligence and encouraging her to pursue a higher education, and sees similar needs and aspirations among the girls and women being served through Adelante Mujeres.
“I get passionate about the work I do because I truly believe in it. I’m a product of that,” she says. “Adelante Mujeres opens the door to women like myself who want an opportunity.”
For more information, visit adelantemujeres.squarespace.com or call 503-992-0078.
Este artículo también está disponible en / This post is also available in: Spanish
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