The only surprising thing about a Hispanic education program volunteering at a nearby facility where almost one-third of the population identifies as Latino is that it took so long for the partnership to take place.
Capaces Leadership Institute is a Woodburn-based nonprofit created to bring together nine Latino-led social justice organizations based in the Willamette Valley. Together, they promote advocacy, education, and social change.
Volunteer leaders of its program for teens realized that youth at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, also in Woodburn, could benefit from the Capaces youth curriculum. So they reached out to Oregon Youth Authority’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations about partnership possibilities.
“It fits in with our values and mission of equity, dignity, and respect for all,” said Jaime Arredondo, executive director of Capaces. “We stress wellness, political activity in the community, and eliminating societal disparities. … (MacLaren) has always been here and we’ve been there for many years, so there’s no reason not to come together.”
Since February, volunteers have come into the facility every other week to teach about the history and culture of Latin America, societal expectations, and current events. Volunteers also lead advocacy lessons on community service and civic engagement. The curriculum comes from Capaces’ program for community high school students and incorporates roundtable discussions, readings, and videos.
While about 40 youth initially expressed interest at MacLaren, the 20-plus youth who regularly attended felt empowered by the sessions.
“I have more social knowledge of my culture,” Jose C., a MacLaren youth, said. “I learned about a lot of societal problems with the culture, how being a minority can be. But if you step out of your comfort zone you can explore more. I need to be able to advocate for myself. I learned that I’m capable of more than what I’m categorized as a minority.”
While the program has informed and energized Jose, it’s done even more than that.
“I look forward to coming here — it’s what I call family,” he said. “It’s the little things like this that let you know it’ll be all right. … To me, anyone that takes the time to come here and be with us is family to me.”
On July 29, 28 youth received certificates of completion during an informal graduation session, which also featured dinner and games.
At the event, participants each told the group a word they thought described the program.
“I’d say ‘advocacy’ because I learned about my identity,” Tyler S. said.
“Joyful: I think this brought a lot of joy into the day,” Alex V. said. “A lot of people really looked forward to coming here.”
Jonathan R. added, “Empowering: I learned a lot that I can pass on to younger youth.”
Tristan A. said: “Thankful: I appreciate learning what you guys had to teach, learning about immigration and what goes on outside these gates, and what we can do about it. I’m thankful to be here and have you spend time with us.”
“Normal: It’s been like a getaway, makes me feel normal,” Adonis W. said.
“I have two words: welcomed and knowledgeable,” T.J. S. said. “Even though I’m not Hispanic, you’ve welcomed me in so I could learn more and better myself.”
Arredondo said he hopes to continue the partnership with MacLaren.
“Our mission is leadership development and being open to new discoveries along the way; this has been a great discovery,” he said.
Capaces has applied for a grant that, if awarded, would establish an organic farm plot on MacLaren’s campus.
“We want to teach youth about indigenous ways of growing food,” Arredondo said, noting they’ll learn in late August whether they received the grant. “There’s space here and it would help youth with some workforce skills around agriculture.”
Capaces volunteers and staff said their interest in continuing the partnership with OYA is not just for the benefit of MacLaren youth.
“We came for (them) to learn, but I personally learned a lot,” volunteer Alec Larraza said. “It’s been powerful for me. Home doesn’t have to echo bloodlines, but connections. I come in here and every time I am astounded with the conversation, the wit, and the joy. I feel a sense of home.”