There are a variety of programs offered by Sunnyside's Nuestra Casa that community members aren't always aware of, programs that teach Hispanic men and women skills for contributing to the focus of improving the community, as well as becoming better acquainted with their own children.
Sister Peggy Kennedy has been working with those served by Nuestra Casa, giving them a voice in the efforts of the Sunnyside's Promise group.
She had several conversations with Sunnyside's Promise Director Mark Baysinger about giving the Spanish speaking community members a voice in the effort to reduce gangs in Sunnyside.
Sunnyside's Promise has a goal of reaching out to community members, but didn't have much input from the Hispanic community. Kennedy and Baysinger, as well as the Sunnyside's Promise Board developed an advisory committee, allowing Spanish speaking community members to participate.
"We felt the Hispanic community had a lot to contribute," shared Kennedy.
She shared that most realize the entire community needs to be on board in the gang reduction efforts, that both the Spanish speaking community members and others need to work together for the effort to be successful.
The advisory committee, shared Kennedy, gives those who don't speak English a sense of value. Further explaining, she noted, "They realize their input is just as important as that of English speaking community members.
"The response was wonderful."
Kennedy said approximately 30 Spanish speaking community members have attended the four or five advisory committee meetings this year.
"One of the first activities involved a dinner and game night at the Sunnyside Community Center recently," she noted, explaining those involved with the committee devised a plan for bringing together community members who otherwise might not interact with one another.
Another program that has gained in success involves grief workshops. Kennedy worked with Lower Valley Hospice and Palliative Care Director Ron Jetter to implement the workshops.
"I am a mental health counselor and was noticing a lot of depression issues are the result of grief," Kennedy shared.
As a result, she wanted to help community members deal with various grief issues.
Explaining, Kennedy said, many of those whom she sees at Nuestra Casa grieve over the loss of not just loved ones, but the loss of a job, the loss of their home country, the loss or lack of realization of the "American Dream," and many other losses that cause depression when not dealt with in a healthy manner.
"Many of those whom we serve at Nuestra Casa gave up a lot just to be here (Sunnyside)," shared the sister.
The program is fairly new and this year there have been two workshops, which Kennedy feels were helpful for those who attended. She hopes to continue the partnership between Nuestra Casa and Lower Valley Hospice and Palliative Care in the fall.
"We would like to reach out to more community members," she noted.
Kennedy has her hand in several baskets, including the development of an early childhood development program.
There are several community members who have taken English as a Second Language classes provided by Nuestra Casa, but the organization felt more could be served if they had a place where their children could learn, as well.
The early childhood development program not only helps those in the ESL program, but provides the youngsters an opportunity to be more prepared for kindergarten.
Nuestra Casa, shared Kennedy, was able to provide the program via grant funding from the Yakima Valley Community Foundation. Funds received helped her organization secure Helen Gonzalez and an assistant, who are both child development specialists.
The specialists work with parents, too, helping them learn activities and information for educational development in the home.
"Washington Migrant Council donated furniture for our program, too," Kennedy noted.
The program involves individual assessments of each child for specialized educational development, as well.
The grant provided by Yakima Valley Community Foundation is good through June 2011 and Nuestra Casa, seeing the success of the newly established program, hopes to secure future funding to continue it.
Another Nuestra Casa program that has been a great success is the Justice Circle, which has expanded to include Prosser residents.
Sister Maria de Jesus, whose final day at Nuestra Casa was last Wednesday, expanded the Justice Circle to include Prosser.
The Women's Justice Circle provides low income women with information to help them learn what resources are available to them. The women can collaborate with one another and learn leadership skills, learning how they can make a difference in the community and speak out to enact positive change.
One member of the Sunnyside Women's Justice Circle found her voice through the group and has become a member of several community action groups, including the Sunnyside School District improvement team.
Sister Mary Rita Rohde added that Nuestra Casa had been wanting to expand its programs outside Sunnyside and de Jesus was helpful in that matter.
de Jesus also helped develop a Spanish literacy program that serves Spanish speaking adults with a desire to read.
Nuestra Casa, shared Kennedy, will be seeking out a bilingual individual willing to continue both programs.
"Blanca Bazaldua can fill in, but we will be looking to hire someone in the near future," shared Kennedy.
Bazaldua is Nuestra Casa's community outreach coordinator and works with mothers, fathers and youngsters.
She is involved in providing Motherread/Fatheread classes.
The classes, shared Bazaldua, are made possible through Humanities of Washington, which supplies books and a curriculum to help parents learn reading skills.
"It serves to educate the children, but it also gives parents a starting place for conversation with their children," she explained, stating the books focus on lessons about emotions, treating one another with respect and the importance of family.
The books, Bazaldua shared, provide the youngsters with life skills and the parents with a chance to bond with the children.
"Even children who don't read benefit from the program because the parents can have a conversation with them about the pictures in the stories," she continued.
The classes are held several times throughout the year, depending on the demand. A free book is given to the parents at each class, and they are taught activities related to the book that they can share with their children.
Another program Bazaldua oversees is a first aid class for families.
She explained family members are not certified through the class, but are trained to treat home injuries.
"The class is meant for them to learn how to help a family member when that family member suffers an injury," Bazaldua continued.
She noted there are a number of community members with whom she has come in contact with through the classes who believed they knew the proper treatment for even minor injuries. In fact, they were not well educated on such matters.
Bazaldua, giving an example, noted burns can become more serious if not treated properly. Some are of the belief a burn can be treated with mayonnaise or butter, but both can make the injury worse.
Another example of misinformation some have shared with her is the treatment of an open wound, such as a scrape. "I have heard someone say they would put ash on it and others believe treating it with dirt will help heal the injury.
"Some believe you pull on a person's ear or pound on their back when they are choking," shared Bazaldua, stating those attending the first aid classes are taught the Heimlich maneuver to assist a family member who is choking.
They are taught to create slings and when is the appropriate time to seek emergency medical attention for an injury, as well.
Bazaldua shared, "Each of these programs serve to provide parents ways in which they can interact with their children...we insert parenting tips in almost all our programs to better help families."