Below are just a few of the many success stories that we see every year!
“Bienestar is really important to all of us—to learn and have a better life. The classes and programs are all really accessible. I hope they keep helping people like us—farmworkers and Latinos.”
Moving to a new city when you’re young is hard. Will I fit in? Will the other kids like me?
Here are some questions not many of us have to worry about: How quickly will I learn English? Are my clothes warm enough? Will I go to school? Will I find work?
Manuel moved to the United States from Mexico with his father when he was 16. His Dad worked in the fields finding work where he could during the harvests. Neither had much of a formal education.
“We came to Oregon because we had no opportunities in Mexico. When I first came here it was really hard to find a good job. I got work on a farm and started making 5 dollars an hour.”
They came here in winter with just their summer clothes they wore in Mexico. The wind and rain were awful, but they worked to make what they could to send to Mexico to support the family they left behind. Bit by bit, they began to earn and save money. After that miserable first year, Manuel finally secured his residence card and workers permit, enabling him to earn more.
But he needed help. His rent was too high and his young family was getting bigger, with his second daughter on the way. A friend told him about an affordable housing organization with special assistance for farmworkers and their families. Soon, the family was moving into Bienestar’s Reedville complex in Aloha.
Aside from getting relief from paying steep rental prices, they were offered a host of asset building programs and opportunities for the entire family. Bienestar’s evening Financial Literacy classes taught Manuel how to stretch his paycheck and manage to save $100 a month. An Individual Development Account (IDA) program which offers a 3:1 match for every dollar saved towards a productive asset like education expenses or a house helped Manuel and his family realize their dream of homeownership. It was hard and took three years but they succeeded.
“When you move to a new place, you have to find work to afford rent. So I started saving. Saving was really hard, when we needed money we were tempted to go into our savings but I said no, this is for the house. And once we met our goal and it was matched by the Bienestar IDA program, we could afford a down payment.”
In 2012, Manuel and his family purchased their own home and no longer live in Bienestar housing. The support they received while living at Bienestar helped them leverage their hard work and commitment to improving their lives and the lives of their daughters.
“I would like to say thanks to Bienestar. I’m really happy and excited. We have a house! Thanks to my wife and family also, for saving and working hard. I want for my daughters to grow up and be healthy, have a career, something they love. We have all these opportunities now, it’s really great.”
My name is Anna Osborn, and I am the current Jesuit Volunteer at Bienestar. I am originally from Omaha, Nebraska and moved to Oregon for a year-long position as Program Coordinator.
I feel that one of the most powerful tools a person can have is empowerment, so I was therefore intrigued by Bienestar’s model of building housing, hope, and futures through the wide array of services available to the residents. I am passionate about education and community development, and I am able to participate in both through my position at Bienestar. I also feel that working with children is especially rewarding and love mentoring children and teens.
As a Program Coordinator, my position is wide-ranging. I coordinate two Homework Clubs in the afternoons where I assist children in first through sixth grade with homework and reading, and lead the children in art and science activities. On Tuesdays, I co-lead a class for high school students planning for their lives after graduation. We discuss the importance of planning for the future, budgeting, and different options for after high school. I also co-teach a nutrition and cooking class for 3rd-5th graders, and coordinate Bienestar’s community gardens program.
The most meaningful program for me has been the class with high school students—Education Navigation. These students are determined to be the first in their families to go to college. The average grade level achieved by the older generation of our residents is just 7th grade. These kids have an immense amount of responsibility, and have been forced to grow up faster than others their age. Their incredible stories and perspective on life are extremely inspiring to me.
When the 2008 recession hit, the trickle down to agricultural and manual laborers was deeply felt. Gustavo’s father was laid off and his family soon found themselves in California without an income or prospects. They had no choice but to uproot and join extended family members in Oregon.
Gustavo’s family was in a crisis. In this situation they found themselves in, they worried constantly about meeting their immediate basic needs like food and shelter and hardly at all about homework, saving for college, or getting involved in the community. Gustavo was quickly headed toward becoming another statistic: According to the Washington County Commission for Children and Families, among Latinos, just over half have a high school diploma (51.5%) and less than eight percent have a four year degree.
However, Gustavo was lucky. “My parents heard about Bienestar’s affordable housing, we applied, and soon we had a home in Forest Grove. I honestly don’t know where my family would be without the help and resources Bienestar has given us.”
Gustavo, in high school at the time, quickly became an active and involved member of his community, volunteering his time at Bienestar to teach ESL classes to adults and mentoring youth in Homework Club. Gustavo opened a matched saving account known as an Individual Development Account (IDA) at Bienestar and became the first to meet his savings goal to help pay for his education.
“Bienestar has opened many doors for me. My goal in life has always been to receive my bachelor’s degree and be able to provide for my family. I am currently attending Portland State University and am employed part-time. This is my second year of college and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon. Volunteering for Bienestar has kept my culture and roots alive—I love working with my community. Bienestar is like a second family to me; without the support of Bienestar I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Click on the Donate button to give a gift to Education Navigation, the IDA program at Bienestar that helps kids like Gustavo reach for their dreams!
“¿Qué tipo de ayuda necesitan su familia?” What kind of help does your family need? Seated in the living room of her neighbor, Norma is conducting a home-visit with a newly-arrived family to the Reedville apartment complex in Aloha. As a Bienestar Promotora, Norma meets with families in her apartment complex on a regular basis to identify needs and match them with resources at Bienestar and the community at large. It’s a role that she is proud to have as she is able to help those who she says remind her of herself years ago.
When Norma and her family moved into Reedville apartments in 2006, language barriers and difficult relationships led to feelings of isolation, and she soon realized she needed help. She began to participate in the many on-site resident programs offered by Bienestar. After two years and much training, Norma became a Promotora and began to link neighboring families in need to resources and help. The Promotores program has helped Norma overcome these barriers to success and she is now donating her time as a member of the Bienestar Board of Directors where she serves passionately on the Resident Services Committee.
She and her family have participated in many Bienestar programs, such as ESL, Computer Club, Portland Audubon Society’s Explorador Camp, Youth Financial Literacy, Homework Club, and the matched savings IDA program. Norma and her nine month old Kaylie are currently enrolled in Bienestar’s Born to Learn program, a class that teaches early cognitive development and parenting engagement. Through participating in Bienestar programs and volunteering her time to give back, Norma has learned effective and confident communication, how to handle interpersonal conflict, and the importance of learning and growing together as an individual, a family, and a community.
“Bienestar has helped me learn new skills and accomplish things that will better my life and the lives of my children. I am a better parent because of the programs and am now more involved in my children’s welfare and education”.
Please consider making a gift to support programs like Promotores and Born to Learn and help mothers like Norma open doors for their children and for themselves.
Successes in the Promotores Adult Program:
Rosa Bahena was a Promotora and a single, 20 year-old woman residing at Cornelius Park Apartments with her parents and three brothers. She is a documented immigrant from Mexico who began work in the United States picking strawberries. Rosa has attended classes from 2003-2005 and with help from Bienestar, entered the University of Oregon HEP program, a residential 3-month program to help farmworker youth attain the GED and gain exposure to a college campus. Rosa attained her GED in Spring 2004 and is now workng at Merix Corporation where she was recently named Employee of the Month.
Alejandra Aguilar, Promotora and resident from 2000 - 2012 of Willow Park Apartments in Forest Grove. She is a single mother of two children who volunteers at Centro Cultural, and was elected by fellow residents as the first President of Bienestar Resident Council. Alejandra enrolled in the Spanish GED class, completing 94% of the classes. During the project, Alejandra was able to secure a better job working part-time for the Forest Grove School District as a teacher assistant. She serves on the boards of Bienestar and Centro Cultural.
Successes in the Youth programs:
Jorge Barajas Jorge is the toughest 10 years old in his neighborhood. At least he thinks he is. His hair is spiked and his temper sometimes gets the best of him. But his good looks and soft charm makes him irresistible to the other kids and adults know him. He likes the attention and loves to stand out. This much is obvious.
Coming home from school late one fall afternoon, Jorge is walking towards his apartment to take part in his usual routine: hanging out with friends, riding his bike, or getting into mischief. His parents often work late so he has the freedom to do what he wants. READ MORE!
Issac Alonso Reedville Apartment resident Isaac Alonzo and his family recently moved into their first home, thanking Bienestar for the support that made their lifetime dream come true. Isaac and his family lived in a farmworker apartment at Reedville Apartment in Aloha for ten years. Isaac has worked at Iwasaki Bros. Nursery for many years, and his wife is employed at Reser’s Foods. Isaac served as a Bienestar Promotor for Reedville Apartments for 4 years and was also a member of the Board of Directors. READ MORE!
Mika Flaig has much to be proud of. His hard work and determination have paved the way for a GED certificate and a bright future, and it has also served to motivate other LISTOS students to do the same. Yet Flaig remains very humble and credits the Listos program with his success. “I really appreciated it (the LISTOS Program). It helped me a lot. The classes and work experience have given me lots of opportunities.” After he passed his math exam, Maria Moreno (the program coordinator) remembers the first thing out of his mouth was “I couldn’t have done it without your help!”
Hermelinda Estrada enrolled in the LISTOS program while pregnant after dropping out of high school, and had no family in Oregon. Bienestar helped connect her to Shriner's for her daughter's needs, provided her with glasses and a driver's license, and bought the scrubs needed to start her new job. She now has a diploma, works as a nursing home aide and plans to earn a CNA license, attend college, and work her way into the health field.
Levi Beam overcame many obstacles with determination, and is on his way to great things. With no family help, he has earned his GED with high marks and plans to start working at a nursing home soon. From there he plans to earn a CNA license, and continue studying to become a registered nurse. He has enrolled at PCC, and plans to transfer to PSU where he will begin studies to eventually become a Psychiatrist, where he can help others overcome their barriers to success and happiness as well.