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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.

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