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Adelante Mujeres: Oregon nonprofit empowering Latinas to lead

"[It] creates a space where we can not only feel more passionate about our work but have the resources we really need to fulfill the work," Beatriz Medel said.

FOREST GROVE, Ore. — Adelante Mujeres is a unique organization that lifts up the voices of Latinas and their families in Oregon.

It was founded to do something no other nonprofit in the state was doing: focus on the needs of immigrant Latina women.

Adelante Mujeres recently renovated their entire building in Forest Grove to help fulfill their mission. Inside their space in the heart of town, butterflies scattered throughout symbolize a people and their culture.

When you enter the building from the street, you're greeted by a bright mural in the hallway showcasing a map of the western hemisphere.

"Roots here represent our ancestors," Beatriz Medel, Chicas Youth Program Youth Advocate & Project Manager, said, "and how it really starts with them and how we were able to grow and rise from them and migrate - which is what Monarchs represent."

Migration can be the root of Latinx pride, but also represent marginalization and isolation. 

A large photo of a local Aztec dancer is painted on the wall in the entry-way, representing Mexico's rich traditions and history.

"This whole exhibit, which we're calling migration is beautiful, talks about past, present and future," Medel added.

In a town where almost 25% of the people are Latinx, Adelante Mujeres' newly remodeled building provides a space to help Latinas move forward, rise up and flourish: Un lugar para adelante mujeres.

"It's just about rising up from the ground through all the tribulations we've been through as a community and then rising and flying to where we are, where we call our home now," Medel said.

Generational poverty, racism and sexism create barriers for many Latina women and their families, often holding them back from education, leadership and civic engagement.

Nonprofit Adelante Mujeres focuses solely on their needs by providing education and leadership opportunities through a dozen different programs. The Chicas Youth Development after-school program for Latinas ages 8 to 18 in Washington County helps girls develop leadership skills and build cultural identity.

"That's not things you learn in an academic environment - especially not for Latina youth," Medel said. "They can feel inspired in a space where they feel comfortable."

"I think I wouldn't be who I am right now without it because it impacts so much on my life right now," sixth-grade Chicas participant Sophia Hernandez told KGW, "and it makes me think more about life and learn to be more grateful about things and be more mindful. And just have a bigger imagination."

Hernandez looks forward to Chicas every week, even though it's virtual for now during COVID. It allows her to tap into her Mexican roots and creative side. At 11 years old, she says she discovered a future.

"[It] gives me more healthy choices and put more confidence in myself to do bigger things and it made me stronger as a person," Hernandez added.

While they can't use the building to its full potential during the pandemic, Adelante Mujeres still maintains critical programs in the building, such as early childhood education.

Before the remodel, children had to go to a different location.

"These children are children of essential workers," Lupe Yundt, Early Childhood Education Manager, said. "Having childcare in the building, especially for our adult education program, really allows us to be able to care for the children while the mothers are taking classes for themselves."

"It's a two-generation program where mothers bring their children for childcare then they go off to their classrooms," Yundt added.

Founded in 2002, Adelante Mujeres now serves 9,000 Latinas and their family members in and around Washington County every year.

More than 80% of staff identify as Latina and speak Spanish. Many have similar backgrounds to participants. In fact, some actually participated in one of Adelante Mujeres' programs.

Among many other skills, women learn how to be civic leaders and start their own businesses. 

Adelante built a shared-use commercial kitchen for business owners to use as well as cooks to make early childhood education meals.

"It’s a space for budding Latinx entrepreneurs to come prep their food for food trucks they’re getting up and running. Or maybe they have a booth at the farmers' market. Having commercial food prep space is vital to helping them get that business up and running," Anna Yeager, Adelante Mujeres Marketing Manager, said. 

Their revamped home base allows the organization to fulfill their mission.

"The building creates a space where we can not only feel more passionate about our work but have the resources we really need to fulfill the work," Medel said.

When participants walk the halls, those butterflies serve as a reminder of their roots and the opportunity to transform. 

"Latina women are a core part of the Latinx family. When we help to empower those women we help to empower an entire family which then helps to empower the community they live in," Medel added.

Adelante Mujeres hosted a virtual grand opening on Friday to give everyone a look inside the remodeled building and celebrate the millions of dollars raised to make it happen.

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