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3 posts from October 2012


ESL Clases Stay in Sonoma Valley

When the Sonoma Valley Adult School lost its funding last spring, La Luz Center immediately stepped in and applied for a grant to continue the English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for Sonoma Valley residents.  The La Luz Center received a $71,000  grant from the Todd Trust - part of the Sonoma County Community Foundation - to continue these crucial classes for the next two semesters.   With the collaboration of Sonoma Valley Unified School District through Principal Maite Iturri, La Luz Center partnered with El Verano School to host two of the ESL evening classes. 

Through the generosity of our major donors, morning classes will also continue at Booker Hall.   Fortunately, the La Luz Center was able to hire back several of the experienced teachers who had had been working with the Adult School and were already familiar with the curriculum.

Maricarmen Reyes Larios, Coordinator of Educational Programs and Leadership at La Luz Center, has been instrumental in organizing all the classes. According to Maricarmen,   “Our mission is to make sure we provide the tools so the students can become active participants who will help shape the economic, cultural and social aspects of our community.”

La Luz Center intern, Rachael Meyn, from the American University in Washington D.C. will also administer a needs assessment for the ESL students. This study will ensure that their basic needs (food, shelter and health) are met in order to create a stable environment for learning that will encourage students to stay with the course, in addition to helping La Luz obtain statistics for current and potential educational grants.

La Luz Center is devoted to offering courses to our community at little or no cost.  All classes began on September 18th and cost only $25 per student per semester.  There has been a great demand for ESL.  Two evening classes meet at El Verano School on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings  for beginner - high intermediate.  Morning classes are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Booker Hall at La Luz for the beginning to high-intermediate as well, and child care is available for participating parents at low monthly cost of $5 per child.

Although the classes are currently filled to capacity, thanks to our generous donors there will be another semester beginning the second week of January.  La Luz Center is also looking for ESL volunteer tutors who can assist students with English lessons and how to use the ESL textbook. If anyone is interested in volunteering, please call 707-938-5131 Ext. 106 or at volunteer@laluzcenter.org.

“Education is a major part of our mission statement and thus we aim to empower our community through education that leads to self advocacy and leadership in their family and in the community.” states Juan Hernandez III, the new Executive Director at the La Luz Center.   “We are delighted that our community members will continue to be able to attend classes in a convenient location and learn basic language skills that will be crucial to their success.”

La Luz is a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting our Sonoma Valley neighbors, who contribute to the economic, cultural and social well being of our community. La Luz provides English language training, teaches computer skills, distributes food, hosts medical services, offers crisis counseling, and supports events that celebrate the richness of our multicultural community.


Index Tribune: "First Latino director hired at La Luz"


Souce: sonomanews.com

After securing the annual $100,000, Impact100 grant, and celebrating the most successful fundraiser in its history, La Luz Center has been on an upswing this summer. The Valley nonprofit marked another milestone by installing the first Hispanic executive director in the organization’s 27-year history when it hired Juan Hernandez III in August.

“He is the very first Latino to work as the director,” beamed Claudia Mendoza-Carruth, president of the La Luz board of directors. She added that the change was important as the organization largely serves the immigrant population, most of whom are Hispanic.

“Our clients can look up to him and their children can see what he is doing and know that they can do it too. Their parents can say, ‘Look, look who you can become.’ That’s one thing we don’t have in Sonoma Valley, those types of role models,” Mendoza-Carruth said. “That’s one of the most powerful things we can give our community and the clients we serve.”

Hernandez brings with him a vast array of experience, which Mendoza-Carruth said made him an ideal leader for La Luz. Born and raised in East Los Angeles, Hernandez grew up with a minister father, and working with the community played a significant role in his childhood. He earned a bachelor’s degree at UC Riverside, and then was one of a handful of fellows selected for the Management Leadership for Tomorrow program in New York City, a specialized training aimed at getting minorities into advanced business degrees. He went on to earn a master’s degree in psychology, with an emphasis on organizational development, from Sonoma State University. Most recently, he served as the director of educational programs at the Calistoga Family Center, an organization similar to La Luz providing resources and information to the immigrant community.

“It’s not just my time in Calistoga, but my life experience and my education that I’ll bring to La Luz,” Hernandez said. “When I first came to La Luz, I said, ‘This is exactly the type of organization I want to work in.’”

Hernandez explained that he briefly volunteered at La Luz while he was attending Sonoma State, but the commute proved difficult for a fulltime student. He also applied for the position of executive director two years ago, but the board ultimately selected Yvonne Hall.

“It was a time of administrative turmoil at La Luz. (Hall) came to fill the desk for almost no pay,” Mendoza-Carruth said, adding that Hall had always said she’d give La Luz two years before she wanted to go back into retirement. During her tenure, Hall brought financial stability to the organization, even convincing all staff members to take a pay cut so no one would get laid off. As the two years drew to a close, the 22 members of La Luz’s board of directors formed a search committee and reviewed 40 applicants before selecting Hernandez for his ambition, experience and education.

“She (Hall) is now happy in retirement again. We’ve invited her to be a permanent advisor to the La Luz board,” Mendoza-Carruth said.

Hernandez began in August, just as La Luz was working on plans to expand its physical space, thanks to the $100,000 grant from Impact100. “Juan basically arrived and on the first day was looking over financials and budgets for the project,” Mendoza-Carruth said.

While he spent the first month working closely with the staff to understand how the organization functions, Hernandez is now interested in strengthening La Luz’s outreach in the community by collaborating with other groups and organizations. He said he plans to review the programs and services to find opportunities to better serve clients. He also plans to work more closely with the county, especially when it comes to grants.

“We don’t receive any money from the county, which has grants for the exact services we offer. I want to know why,” he said.

He said he was most excited to get involved with the Sonoma Valley community. “I see me in our clients and I am able to connect, it is a unique thing,” he said. “They kind of look at me like, ‘Wow, there’s a Latino here now.’ It changes the dynamics.”

But he said he doesn’t want the fact that he’s Latino to define his role or the organization. “One of the things I want people to know is that La Luz doesn’t only serve Latinos. We’re an organization that helps people in need,” he said. “I want our organization to be nimble enough where we can focus on the needs of Sonoma Valley.”

Hernandez is married and his wife, Veronica Ortiz-Hernandez, is a high school Spanish teacher. In addition to his work and family, Hernandez is a passionate sports fan, especially when it comes to USC football.

“I am an excellent football coach, so maybe Sonoma Valley High School will let me come and coach one of their young teams,” he laughed.

Reflections from Patti England, Chair, Impact100 Grant Program.

La Luz Wows Members and Prospective Members.
Reflections from Patti England, Chair, Impact100 Grant Program


On Saturday morning, September 29th, more than 50 Impact100 Sonoma members and prospective members met at Booker Hall, a former church building, now the meeting room for a vast array of activities sponsored by La Luz and their community partners. After a warm and enthusiastic welcome from La Luz Board President Claudia Mendoza-Carruth, Impact100 Sonoma President B.J. Bischoff and Membership Chair Ann Reder shared a bit of Impact100 history and described the benefits of membership.

But that day, the focus was really on La Luz. We enjoyed a tour of their facilities and learned all about what happens in the relatively small footprint of La Luz. In Booker Hall (named for Ligia Booker who started La Luz 30 years ago from the back of her car) and the adjoining patio, everything takes place from child care to counseling sessions, to English and computer classes, to parenting classes and food distribution, to a free animal spay clinic sponsored by Pet's Life Line. Every space is utilized in multiple ways to provide services to the largely immigrant and low income population that La Luz serves.

The tour moved to the offices next door and Juan Hernandez, the new Executive Director, and Kara Reyes, the Program Director, continued to amaze us with what can be accomplished in the small house where clients are met and helped with whatever brings them to La Luz on any given day. Roughly 1200 people are served in some capacity each month. It was obvious that La Luz needed more space in which to provide their growing services. Local Architect, George Bevan, shared some ideas for the expansion build-out that the Impact100 grant will help to fund. The majority of our $100,000 grant will fund new and expanded staff for counseling and education.

The best part of the morning, though, was listening to the personal stories of some staff members and how La Luz fostered them first as clients, then as volunteers, and eventually to becoming paid members of the staff, learning the skills necessary to be advocates for the community. One young mother shared her story of coming to La Luz as a small child with her parents, volunteering at La Luz as part of her senior project, becoming a receptionist, and later becoming a skilled Family Advocate. When another staff member congratulated her on her recent U.S. Citizenship, there wasn't a dry eye in the whole room.

La Luz' mission 'to empower the community through education, advocacy and leadership' happens every day and it is done with dignity, respect and sensitive compassion that touched everyone attending.

All photos provided by Russ Johnson.