Lucilene Lira teaches salsa lessons during the celebration.
Lucilene Lira teaches salsa lessons during the celebration.
Organizers called the event "A Decade of Success."

Adelante Mujeres, a nonprofit that educates and empowers low-income Latina women and their families, celebrated 10 years of service with a party in downtown Forest Grove, where the agency-run farmer’s market sets up each week. During the event, speakers shared thanks for the services provided by the organization, and visitors viewed displays showing the agency's successes.

Founded by Sister Barbara Raymond and Bridget Cooke, the organization operated out of Sister Barbara’s home and then the rectory at St. Anthony Church. With support from the Sisters of the Holy Names, the community where Sister Barbara is a professed Religious, Adelante Mujeres was able to move into an office and has continued to grow steadily. Today, the organization serves more than 450 families.

Adelante started in 2000 as a program under the auspices of Centro Cultural, a social action organization in Cornelius. At the time, Centro Cultural was offering English language classes, but most of the students were men. Raymond and Cooke began brainstorming ideas to draw in more Latina women. They theorized that if they could help the Latina women in Washington County, the positive impacts would benefit the rest of the family.

Although most of the women served by Centro Cultural shared a common country of origin and language, Sister Barbara discovered they spent much their time isolated in their homes. Their extended family and friends were in Mexico. They were isolated by language (many did not speak English), and their children, who often translated for them, were gone at school all day.

Sister Barbara and Cooke invited people to lead educational seminars on topics like access to services, rights, nutrition, diet, reconciliation, forgiveness, and even parenting.

“These women were raised in situations where poverty was so great that their parents basically worked all day, then put food on table, and then went back out to work,” Sister Barbara said.  

“They didn’t know how to talk to children to build literacy, they didn’t know how to play with children,” she said. Most importantly, the women often worked so much that they had little time to spend with their children. “I remember asking one woman, ‘How much time do you spend with your daughter? She said 15 minutes, and I asked ‘Per day?’ Mom said, ‘No, each month.’” Sister Barbara said.

Folk art was the program’s first offering. The women shared traditional crafting techniques, from embroidery or sewing, design and use of color, Aztec and Mayan designs were prevalent in the art. But the women were not just crafting, they were sharing stories and learning from one another.

Young children began showing up at the sessions, so Adelante established a preschool program — a precursor to the organization’s Early Childhood Education Program that guides children in early literacy skills and builds kindergarten readiness.

As the families blossomed, so too did Adelante. The first year of Adelante’s independence from Centro Cultural, the program’s budget was $138,240. Over the next nine fiscal years, Adelante would grow its budget to more than $900,000.

Education for young women is the central focus of Adelante Chicas, the first youth development program in Oregon to provide a proactive approach to empower Latina girls in grades 3-12 with culturally relevant after-school programming and community involvement opportunities.

In addition to working with women, girls and young children, Adelante has grown to include a financial literacy program that provides access to individual development accounts. Journey to College tackles the low graduation rates among Latino teens by promoting a pro-college culture for students and their families through education, financial literacy training and matched savings accounts. Adelante Empresas is a small business development program that offers training and marketing opportunities to aspiring Latino entrepreneurs.

Fair access to food is another issue Adelante addresses through its Adelante Agricultura, Nourish the Community, and Forest Grove Farmers Market programs.

Led by Alejandro Tecum, Adelante’s Agricultura program trains Latino farmers in organic agriculture by teaching chemical-free farming methods and ecological land management. The farmers, in turn, are invited to sell at the market, in downtown Forest Grove on Wednesday afternoons.