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7 posts from October 2011


“Hog Heaven” Party – a Benefit for La Luz

IMG_0034Sixty lucky bidders from the Copacabana auction recently enjoyed a Cuban-themed pig roast party at Joshua Rymer and Tim Frazer’s beautiful Glen Ellen home.  Harriet and Randy Derwingson co-hosted the event and managed the 4-hour roasting in a Cuban Chinese Pig Box. 

View photo album in Facebook

There were abundant mojitos and lots of laughter as nearly everyone got up and danced to the Latin music of “Noche Tropical – Los Diferentes del Ritmo.”  Again it was proven:  La Luz supporters love a good party, and “just wanna have fun” while benefiting their favorite cause!



09 Vitalina Rohas 1 small

About ten years ago I came to the United States from Michoacán, Mexico. I never wanted to come to the US. It was my father’s idea that life would be better for me. My sister lives in LA and is the only family I have in the US. My mother died in Mexico. I was saddened that I didn’t get to say goodby to her.

Sonoma has been my home for almost 10 years. In 2003 or 2004 I found out about La Luz through people in the community. La Luz helped me get my first job in Sonoma and I was there for 4 years.

My goal is to finish my GED and go on to Santa Rosa College. I want to study to give a better life for my children. This is a future goal, but right now it’s hard coping and getting therapy and having to deal with the aftermath of everything, so I have a lot to do and think about.

I am so grateful to La Luz because they have helped me so much. I am very thankful for that. I believe, what I feel, is that some day, I want to be able to be part of La Luz. To be part of the team where I can offer help to other people who are in a state of need. 

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014 Lucy Barajas & sons small

I was born in Tepatitlan, Mexico and have been in the United States for 25 years. My husband first came to the US when he was 17. He worked in the apple orchards in Sebastopol. He was coming and going from Mexico to the US and then he got his papers. It took five years for my daughter Maritza and me to get our papers. My husband would work in the US for three months each year and then would return to Mexico to be with us until our papers were ready. Our sons were born in the US.

When I first came to the US it was really good. Everything was clean and really spectacular and I loved the US. It was hard living here though, because everything was so expensive. We had a really hard time.

I first went to La Luz in 1989 because I needed help.My husband’s uncle told me about La Luz and that Miss Booker had things for babies. I went to see her and she gave me a crib for my baby. Early on we came to the Mobile Health Van. La Luz helped us so much when we first arrived.

I worked as a chef in a restaurant for 5 years. My boss was an American girl and she was a really good boss and paid me really well. The restaurant is now closed. I really like to cook and cook a lot for my family, all traditional Mexican food.

There were many years when we didn’t have a connection with La Luz because my husband was successful in work and we didn’t need assistance. Once we got our papers and he started his business and things were going well we lost touch. My husband said because we now have money let La Luz help people who really need it.

Maritza was going to Junior College and she decided to volunteer at La Luz, to give back. She started as a volunteer and now she is the receptionist at La Luz. She told me about the ESL classes at La Luz. I really love learning English and while I’m in class my 3 1/2 year old twins boys are in the daycare program. We are here two days a week for two hours each day and daycare is so good for my twin sons.

La Luz is really good and helps all people. Whatever the personality of the person, whether they are nice, picky or angry, people at La Luz are so nice and helpful all the time. Anyone who comes through the door is going to get some help and be treated nicely. 

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06 Emily Gutierrez 1 small

I was born in Cuernavaca, Mexico and came to the US when I was 16 years old. I came with a Tourist Visa and stayed with my sister to learn English. I was supposed to go to high school, but I couldn’t speak English, so they put me in a special school for foreign speaking adults, and I was only 16 years old. I learned English because I was taking classes from 8:30am -3:30 pm. When they learned I was only 16 the administrators tried to kick me out, but the teacher wouldn’t let them because I was such a good student. I was in that class for two years.

After I finished my English classes I returned to Mexico and got married. When I was 22 years old I wanted a fresh start in life because my husband was a womanizer. I returned to the United States and have lived in Sonoma for 26 years.

I have always been a waitress. My knees were getting bad and I had to have them replaced. My former boss paid for my Kaiser insurance, but business started getting bad so he had to stop paying. I now work two days a week at a restaurant in Novato and the other days of the week I volunteer at La Luz.

I met Juanita, who was working at the Redwood Empire Food Bank, and Mario, who ran the program. They suggested I join them at a meeting for volunteers at La Luz. That was four years ago and the beginning of my relationship with La Luz. I had had my knees replaced months before and I was needing a little help so I went with her and got some food. From that day on I’ve been a volunteer at La Luz. I volunteer at La Luz six days a month. On Fridays I help distribute food and groceries to 150- 200 families. The Mobile Health Van is also there on Fridays giving medical care and checking people’s blood pressure, teeth and giving shots.

I was pulled into these organizations by luck and I’ve been very, very lucky. They gave me a reason to get up in the morning. After my knee replacements I was really depressed having to be in my house all the time, doing nothing, feeling sorry for myself thinking that I was never going to be able to do anything. La Luz helped me get out of the hole I was in. My self-esteem is becoming really high because of La Luz. Besides helping with food distribution I now belong to another program that’s affiliated with La Luz, Lideres Campesinas. This is statewide “women to women’” organization that provides help to women. Women who work in the fields, women who are dealing with spousal abuse, we show them where they can go for help. Women need to know they are not alone, that they can get out of a bad situation.

You know, the La Luz community brings people together and deep friendships develop. From the first day I came to La Luz I felt really good because I was helping people. People needed me and I like to help people and that’s a good feeling. I feel very, very lucky that I belong to so many leader organizations, and one day we are going to make big changes. 

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03 Emily Chavez 3 small

I was born in Sonoma and have lived here all my life. I’m now 18 years old. My parents emigrated here from Mexico. My dad came in the late 1980’s and my mom in the early 1990’s. My dad is now a US citizen and my mom has Permanent Resident status.

One summer, when I was about 14, I started volunteering at Vineyard Workers Services. That was before they became part of La Luz. Maricarmen, my aunt, who works at La Luz, intro- duced me to Vineyard Worker Services. I was eventually hired as a Youth Ambassador for their Parent’s Speak-up Campaign, which was a program that helped parents talk to their children about how to have a better relationship with their kids. I also was hired for their La Luz’s Proyecto Enlace survey program and I’m still working on that. We sent people out to survey the local vineyard workers and families in Sonoma Valley, asking about basic needs and what other programs they think are needed in the community.

La Luz helps so many people. There are people who think because they are not legal they have no rights. When they come in we explain to them that they do have rights, not the same as someone who is a citizen, but we help them understand that just because they don’t have papers doesn’t mean they don’t have legal rights. Without La Luz there would be many more people without jobs, more homeless people and many more people without food. Sometimes people come by to just talk.

I have met so many people through La Luz while helping with different events. I have gained a lot of experience and have also learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned that I’m passionate about helping people. I enjoy helping people and that’s why I got connected with The Seeds of Learn- ing, a non-profit organization in Sonoma that helps build schools in El Salvador. If I hadn’t come to La Luz I don’t think I would have had the same drive and passion to go to El Salvador. I don’t think I would have done that on my own if I hadn’t first had help from La Luz and my commu- nity here.

Before we could travel to El Salvador we first needed to raise the money. We needed $20,000. Through La Luz, we were able to fundraise part of the money. They provided us with a booth at its Cinco de Mayo Fiesta. That was our first big push. We also had bake sales, car washes and contacted the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs. Ten of my classmates and I raised the money in two months. My trip last year to El Salvador was the inspiration for my senior project. At school, I’m organizing a drive to collect school supplies and will take those supplies back to El Salvador to the school I helped build. I leave in March 2011.

La Luz is like a second family. The staff members are more than just your staff members,theyarealsoyourfriends. IfI’mhavingaproblemIknowIcanask them for advice. It’s more than just a place to work and I’m interacting with them as staff members and also as friends, like a family.

A lot of people come up to me and ask, “Why are you wanting to work for free?” I don’t think of it this way. I don’t think of if as working for free because I’m doing what I like to do which is to help people. 

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011 Maria Chavez 2 small

Seventeen years ago I came to the United States. I was born in La Union Guadeloupe in Jalisco, Mexico. When I first came I was so lonely and homesick and missed my family. I had never left my hometown before. I got married to my husband the day I came to the US. I always waited for him. We had been boyfriend and girlfriend for many years.

We lived in Southern California for 17 years, we had two children, and we all moved to Sonoma seven months ago. We had to move to Sonoma because we had no job and we lost our house. Everything just came down on us, and it was a very stressful time in our lives. I have seven brothers and sisters living in Sonoma and they helped us to move to Sonoma. Theypaid for the deposit on our apartment. My sisters and brothers knew about La Luz and told me I could get help. I went to La Luz. They helped me to pay the rent on our apartment and I was able to go to the food distribution at La Luz on Fridays. La Luz referred me to the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center. I have diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis and epileptic seizures. The doctor said because I was so stressed, if I didn’t get mental health help, I would die. La Luz has provided free mental health care for me. I visit the psychologist at La Luz every Wednesday. Initially my blood sugar was 400-500 and my diabetes is now under control at 140-150. I take medicines and my health problems are now more normal.

My husband has been very depressed. He lost his job and wasn’t able to take care of his family. He spent months not wanting to talk. It was as if he wasn’t with us. I had to take care of everything. When he worked construction he would make $16.00 to $17.00 an hour and now he makes $13.00 an hour. At least we have money for rent and I’m not stressing every month wondering what are we going to do. We have more tranquility and calmness. I some- times cook food to sell to try to make up the deficit. He doesn’t have a full time job and doesn’t work a lot, but we at least can pay the rent. Without La Luz I don’t know where I’d be. 

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Sonoma Patch: The director of family services at La Luz comes full circle to make a difference

3b17dbb501dece4266a421976f138402 Source: Sonoma Patch

Born and raised in Sonoma, Kara Olness-Reyes is a graduate of Sonoma Valley High School and Sonoma State University, where she received a B.A. in Spanish and International Studies. She first learned Spanish while living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and later studied at the University of Seville in Seville, Spain.

She joined La Luz in 2002 as client services coordinator and now leads the Family Services Program.

In 2003, Olness-Reyes was elected to be part of the inaugural Redevelopment Advisory Committee

 for the Springs area, and still serves on it. She is the only bilingual member who has a close connection to the Latino community.

When she’s not working, Kara spends time with her husband Ricardo and sons Joaquin and Benicio, 7 and 3.

Sonoma Patch: You grew up in Sonoma. How has it changed over the years?

Kara:  I'll never forget the first time I learned the quote "the more things change, the more they stay the same."  I was a junior at Sonoma High.  This is how I feel about Sonoma.  Faces change, council members and businesses come and go, but the way we choose to live our lives and fight to keep Sonoma special is the same.

SP: What inspired you to move back?

Kara:  After living abroad for several years, I started to miss all the things that I complained about as a kid.  Like being the daughter of a small town doctor and running into a million people you know every time you go to the store. And I missed family and friends.

SP: You must see families struggling more than ever.

Kara:  There have always been struggles for the working poor in Sonoma. The issues are nearly the same, but it's the magnitude of the problems and the amount of people falling from the middle class almost daily that is challenging to keep up with.

SP: What is it about La Luz that you are most proud of?

Kara:  The individual successes. Watching people who work two to three jobs to make ends meet while learning a new language, and then motivating their kids to be the first in their family to graduate high school or even college. Or someone making the decision to leave an abusive relationship.

SP: What personal qualities make you well suited for your job?

Kara:  Growing up in Sonoma, later living in Mexico and marrying into a Latino family have changed me for the better.  I am sensitive to people's needs, whether they are second-generation Boyes Hot Springs or newly immigrated from a rancho in Oaxaca.

SP: What is your biggest challenge?

Kara:  The feeling that you will never be able to help everyone. 

SP: How does the community work with you?

Kara: We could not do what we do without the contributions of our partner organizations, likeF.I.S.H., Sonoma Valley Community Health Center and Brown Baggers.

SP: How does your international experience influence your work here?

Kara:  I learned the language, but I learned something more important.  The people we identify as "immigrants" in this country have a wealth of knowledge, skills and traditions we can learn from.  I can't imagine a life without having chosen this path.

About this column: Go behind the scenes of the incredible people right under our noses. Every week we'll get into conversation with someone extraordinary who lives or works in Sonoma.