Featuring Nelly Garcia, the Executive Director of La Plaza (formerly known as Child & Migrant Services or The Hospitality Center). Learn about the services La Plaza offers, the historic movement behind their current reorganization, and how you can get involved. Nelly shares her backstory that led to her being named the first Latina immigrant Executive Director for the organization. Nelly will leave you feeling inspired by her incredible passion for her work and for the community she helps support.
For more info about La Plaza, check out their website: laplazapalisade.org.
Hello and welcome to Postcards from Palisade, the podcast that’s all about the people and places that make this slice of western Colorado wonderful. I’m your host, Lisa McNamara.
Today I’m talking with Nelly Garcia, the Executive Director of La Plaza (formerly known as Child & Migrant Services or The Hospitality Center). Keep listening to learn about the services La Plaza offers, the historic movement behind their current reorganization, and how you can get involved. Nelly shares her backstory (or, as she reminds me, pieces of her story!) that led to her being named the first Latina immigrant Executive Director for the organization. Nelly will leave you feeling inspired by her incredible passion for her work and for the community she helps support.
Thanks so much for spending some time with me today.
Nelly Garcia (NG): I’m Nelly Garcia. I am the new Director for Child & Migrant Services. We are changing our name – our new name is La Plaza. I started as a Director in August of 2021, so I’ve been here for about a year and a half, and it’s been a very nice experience to be a Latina immigrant Director. It’s the first time that I am a Director. I worked in the school district prior to this job.
Lisa McNamara (LM): The name change from Child & Migrant Services to La Plaza – can you talk a little bit about why that happened, or when that happened?
NG: Yeah! A year ago and a half when I joined, as I was sharing my personal story and where I come from and looking at the population that we serve – we serve about 100% migrant and immigrant Latinos. We noticed that our name – it was Child & Migrant Services. And as I was going out there, introducing myself, even though I’ve been here for a long time in the area, I’ve been working here for over ten years, I think, I’ve been in different positions, different organizations, so some of the community knows me from different organizations. But they were getting to know me as the Director of Child & Migrant Services. But as I was going out there and introducing myself, letting them know this was my new role, I started to realize that they knew us with different names.
There isn’t a really good translation for Child & Migrant Services. If you translate it, it sounds like Servicios Para Ninos y Sus Familias Migrantes, which is really not a great translation. It’s a long translation. It’s really kind of a definition instead of a literal translation. So they would call us El Centro. They would call us El Centro Migrante, they would call us El Centro de Immigracion, they would call us La Casita, they would call us La Mision, and then the names go on, and on, and on. So I shared that with the board and said, have you noticed that we don’t have a name that is THE NAME, in English and Spanish, that really represents what we do and then that our community recognizes as their own?
And then I started to get some other calls saying, I would like to donate to the children. And we would like to give this to the children. And yeah, we work with children – and their families. Previous in the history of Child & Migrant Services, I think late 70s or 80s, we used to have a childcare, but we no longer do that and we don’t do any direct service with childcare. But our name was still CHILD & Migrant Services.
So we realized the different understandings that our community had, as far as what we do, that were directly connected to our name. And we decided to say, let’s make the change. Let’s find a name that really represents what we want to do, our new vision and mission, and that our community is happy with.
So we started to think about the name that was well known, Centro. And there are so many Centros. There’s Centro de la Familia. There are so many community resource centers. And we didn’t want to be another Centro. We didn’t.
But then when we thought of the idea of Centro, and what the center of the city means, and when you think about where we come from – what is the center of our state or the center of our hometowns? You think of plazas. You think of the plaza that is next to the church that is next to the city council, city hall, and the center that really brings everything together. The resources, the food, the community, the culture, the language, the family, the reunion, the support. And we thought, well – why not La Plaza? It’s, again, a meaning of everybody coming together. A gathering place. Where people get or reach their needs. And we said, OK, let’s try it out!
We came up with the name and then asked our community, do you like this name? First, we did the kind of survey – how do you know us? What is our name, basically. And then we said – they gave us different names, and then we said, what do you think about this name?
And they liked it. They said, yes! And then, the question was, what do you think when you hear La Plaza? And everybody said, my hometown. It reminds me of home. It reminds me of where I come from. And this is really – Child & Migrant Services has been known for a home far away from home. And when they said it reminds me of home, that was exactly the meaning that we wanted to get to. A place where they gather and they feel like home. And that’s how we came up with La Plaza!
LM: That makes total sense!
NG: That’s a long story!
LM: No, but it makes complete sense, because it really is a center of so many communities in Central America. Like everything is built around, that’s the oldest part of the city, the place where all the festivals happen, everybody gathers, there’s food…
NG: Yeah and when you think of Palisade, even though we’re so far away, really, we, location-wise, we are the center of Palisade. And when we think about all the orchards going on around us, and all the people coming together here, we are the center. And there isn’t any other organization that does the work that we do or that is connected in the way that we are trying to connect with our community. So the meaning, it’s there. And we wanted to find, like, a perfect word. We didn’t want to have a long sentence that was again confusing and that they were not going to remember.
So we’re going to be re-branding, April 19th. We’re going to have an open house and we’re excited that we finally have a new name.
LM: Can you talk a little bit about the services that La Plaza provides?
NG: Our name comes from a new strategic plan and it comes from changing our mission and vision. We are here to serve, empower, and cultivate the well-being of migrant AND immigrant agricultural workers and their families in the Grand Valley.
Previously, some of our history has been supporting only migrant seasonal workers. Again, from the background that I come from, as an immigrant, and growing here in the valley, there isn’t any other organization that can support immigrants. As I came to this position, I realized we had a great opportunity. And we decided to go towards that opportunity. To expand our services to not only migrant seasonal but also the immigrant community that stays here.
We do have a lot of immigrant community that are seasonal agricultural workers that stay here year-round. But sometimes those are the people who are usually “hiding” from everything else. They are working and taking care of their families and that’s all. They’re not very involved with the community and those are the population that are not getting the resources they need. For many factors. We could go on and talk about why. But the fact is that they’re not getting the services. And that’s why we wanted to get this opportunity to serve them in a different way.
When you think about migration, you’re going to think of somebody coming to an area. Looking for work will be the first thing that they do. Then, engaging their families, their children to education. And then, what’s next, right? It’s going to take them about five years to settle in a place. To learn about the systems. And we were helping only the community that were here for five, six months out of the year, and going back. But what about those people that are needing a little bit more support to get settled, to feel part of the community. So now we’re opening up the services and how those services look like for everybody in the community that needs our support.
LM: I know a lot about – or, I don’t know a lot about, I shouldn’t say that! I know that some of the things you do are like, hot meals, support for translation services…it seems like there’s such a long list of things…
NG: It’s hard to not talk about the past, because of so many new things that we’re doing now, and the direction that we’re taking. We are changing from being a basic resource, community resource center, to a place where they find more than just the basics. Where they find empowerment. Where they learn how to feel part of the community. Where they learn how to become leaders. Where they learn how to use their voice to find representation.
In the past, we would only do hot meals. And connections to maybe healthcare. Finding them a way of getting them to a doctor. And we have a housing program for people coming seasonally that would get a house to live in during their time here. And then, clothing. We would get clothing donated from different resources – churches, or schools, or even individuals. We would pass that on. So those are – when you think of basics, that’s the basics. Your health, your housing, your food. We would get, have like a pantry that they would have access to.
So moving from that – what else the community needs. So one big piece is making sure they feel part of our community. So, community engagement – what does that look like in our community? Well, them coming and telling us, I need this. And this is different than what we offered, you know. Maybe in the way of education – I need to learn why my child is getting this information. Connecting the bridges of understanding of the systems. Obviously we know that the educational system is different from where they’re coming. How does that work here? Like, helping them understand that.
We want to move towards more empowerment. Teaching them skills. We want to do English classes. We want to implement other higher, adult education. There’s a program through the consulate, called Plazas. Yeah, plazas! And this gives them an opportunity to finish middle school, or finish high school in order to move towards a GED. We want to open it up to more education.
We are growing our connections with the community. We collaborate with the community food bank. We want to make sure that we have what they need, but they are connecting to the resources. So not only giving them a referral but making sure that the community resources are ready for them. Do they have Spanish speakers? And how do we support that, too? How do we support them to find what they need to serve the community that we are referring to them? So we are helping them figure out how that looks like.
We are keeping the hot meals. I think hot meals is a big part of social work. Because, again, we are working with people that come to housing and sometimes are isolated, they want to socialize with people. But we want to make sure that it’s in an interaction that is useful to them. So we’ll continue to do meal nights, but we’re turning them into resource nights. So we want to make sure that every time they come sit down and eat, they also have the opportunity to sit down and talk to a resource that’s out there in the community that they don’t know about. And that the resources are able to reach the community that they are targeting or wanting to get more resources to. So, it’s a two way road that we are trying to address, again, building the bridges.
We are actually trying this in a new, different way, which is a membership-style. When you think of a membership, you think of a Sam’s membership, right? You go pay a fee and then you get what you need. So it is very similar to this. And it comes from the idea of Cesar Chavez movement. Are you familiar with Cesar Chavez?
He was an individual who grew in California, and he was coming from a family of migrant agricultural workers, seasonal workers. And even though he was able to go towards education, achieve, I think he was able to graduate, and find a good job, he realized that agricultural workers, at that time, had a really hard time. So we’re talking about the times where they didn’t have breaks, they were living in a really tiny household with a family of five or six, they didn’t have safe working conditions, they didn’t have access to bathrooms. And he was the person who changed all of this. And he was able to do it by doing a movement of membership-style. He said, we’re going to create a union, and if you want to be part of the union, you’re going to have to pay a fee.
When you think of low income and you’re asking people to pay a fee, maybe you’re going to say, like, how could you?! How could you ask them for something like this?! But, basically what he was saying, he was saying, I’m going to give you a chance to be part of this movement. How do you feel when you buy something? And you know you’re paying for it and you work for it? It has much value to it. You really appreciate it, and you feel like you are part of it. So that’s what he was creating. He was creating a sense of belonging in his own organization. They were part of the movement because they funded the movement, and due to this movement they were able to have worker rights. And that’s the same idea that we want to try to get.
We are going to be asking for a donation. And it’s like $10 per member. But by saying you are a member, you have responsibilities and you have benefits. So everything, all our resources and services that we are going to be providing, it’s based on a membership. They’re going to come in, they’re going to register, we’re going to give them a card, and we’re going to call them members. Not clients. They’re not going to be clients anymore, they’re going to be members.
The main goal, again, is that one day, they’ll be our board of directors. That one day, they’ll be our voice as far as what are the resources that they need and what are the programs that they need. So we work towards an immigrant-led organization.
LM: You’re so inspirational, when you’re talking, I’m like, woohoo! No, but giving people ownership and giving them the ability to feel like they’re contributing, they’re not just taking services, they’re part of something. I can see how that’s huge. That’s wonderful.
NG: Yeah. It’s change. Sometimes change scares people. It’s going to be hard to explain, because when you think of something new, they’re going to be thinking of, how much do I have to give? Because I have given so much. When you think of their stories, when you think of everything they have to go through, they’ve already given too much. And we don’t want to say – we don’t want to ask for something that they can give. We want to ask for something that it’s going to really empower. It’s going to really show them that we care about them and that this organization wants to hear from them. We’re not only here to serve them, we’re here to hear them. To really understand where they’re coming from and supporting them.
Palisade is so far away from city. But we want to create those bridges, we want them to feel part of our community, not only people that come here for a couple of months, but people that really feel part of us, part of our decision making. How many decisions are taken without really considering their benefit, or not their benefit? And this is a time where we have to raise those voices. We need to hear those voices. And it’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be a process, but I think that we have a really set vision, and once we reach it, it’s going to feel good. Because there’s going to be a new organization, and it’s going to be new community, and you’re going to see the connections built.
LM: So you’re doing so much and you don’t have a huge staff, right?
NG: No! We are building our staff. We just hired a new Office Administrator. Coming up, we’re going to have our new Community Navigator. Our new staff, it’s very intentional. We are creating the positions in order to be able to implement the programs and services that we want to try this year. So the Community Navigator is really a case manager. We never had that before. It would only be somebody wearing different hats of outreach and somebody that was here taking care of the building. We realized that for us, to be able to support the community in the way we want to support them, we had to spend on staff and open and grow it.
So it was a change for us to say, OK, now we’re going to have full-time people? Yes, we are going to have full-time people! Because we really need it. One or two people cannot make everything that we want to do. It won’t be possible. We’ve been struggling so far, already. Because we have workers already coming and we’re barely getting the membership model started, and we’re not there yet, and they’re already here. So we have to hurry. We have to make sure we have the staff needed.
So we’ll have our new Navigator starting April 10th. And then our next hire will be a Community Outreach person. Which is going to be somebody going out in the community to reach out to them, tell them about our changes, tell them about the services that we are going to be having – so just letting them know everything that is going on and giving them an opportunity to register and sign up for our services out there. So that’s going to be a part time position for this season.
LM: I was going to ask you about the history of the organization, but I wonder if that’s even – since you’re changing so much and you’re so forward-facing right now, I don’t even know, is that something you even want to talk about right now?
NG: I know who built the organization, three farm owners, ladies. They decided to do something for the community, and really CMS started as The Hospitality Center. It was a trailer going around with food, with clothing, to find the farmworkers during that time that needed some support and some connections to the basic resources. It stayed like that for a long time. Long, long time.
LM: And that was in the 50s, or…
NG: 56, 1956.
LM: So like, 50-plus years.
NG: Yeah. And so I think there was a period of growth, like, early 2000s maybe, where CMS started to do English classes. That’s where our tamal/tamales program started, as a way of fundraising for the resources that were needed. And then I have a gap in information, and then that’s when I joined, later on. I didn’t have a chance to talk to previous directors. Everything that I’m doing, it’s basically new.
We survived for a year that we really used to gather the information to start making changes this year, and start implementing some of the changes. We know that we’re going to keep growing, we’re going to keep learning and changing every year. We understand that the next five years, it’s a learning time for us. To see exactly what is the, if our strategic plan worked the way we wanted and if it’s meeting the goals that we set at that time.
And yeah, I think, it’s good to remember the people. Give them the credit. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. Otherwise people wouldn’t be receiving the services that they’ve been receiving for so many years. And we have some of the families still around, you know – the Talbott’s family. That is one of the very well-known in the community. And they’re still contributing and they’re supporting – not only the people that they bring, the people that they hire every year, but also, they’re part of our board, they’re part of the changes happening. Just knowing that we have their support, it’s something that we really appreciate and value.
LM: Yeah, absolutely. What’s the most useful way that people can help?
NG: Well, the first one would be, donate! We again, we are funded through grants and individual donors. 60-80% of our funding comes from individual donors, which is huge compared to other organizations. We have a really good donor base. This is the way that we are able to provide the services, create new programs, and grow. Without our individual donors, I think it would be pretty hard.
And we want to make sure that the whole entire valley knows what we do and I know that not everybody knows. This is our work. To make sure that they do, make sure that they know we are here, either if they need us or if they know somebody that needs us. And donations are a great way to support our programs. If they want to donate, if they want to tell us, I want my money to go directly to this program, that’s something we can do. Or just general operations.
The second one, if people want to come and volunteer, we’re always in need of volunteers. With the resource night, serving the meals, that takes a lot of power and energy and everything. So if people want to come and help us serve the meals, setup, cleanup, that’s something that we could use.
We also have special events. We have an annual concert that is our biggest fundraiser. Put it in your calendar – September 9th, we’re going to have our concert. We bring Quemando, it’s a salsa band coming from Boulder, and it’s a night of dancing and just having fun! Really enjoying our food – we sell our famous tamales, and everybody just gets to enjoy the music, enjoy the culture, and again, that’s a way that we collect a lot of our income. That’s our bigger fundraiser. We also need a lot of volunteers for that.
LM: How do people sign up to be volunteers?
NG: That’s another thing that we are creating – our procedures. We want to make sure that when you come in and ask, we want to know why are you interested in helping? Do you know a little bit of Spanish and want to practice more? We want to place you to do something where you’re actually going to have the connection to the community and you’re going to get to do that.
So we are starting a new process where you would have to fill out an application and from that application we would learn where is it that you would like to help and then we will give you that option. So that form has like, different options, and then we’ll go from there. We’ll let you know what are the opportunities to help, we’ll arrange schedules. And that’s going to be coming up on our new website. So we’re going to have our new website that really shows all the changes that we’re implementing.
LM: Is that going to be rolled out in coordination with the open house?
NG: Yes! April 19th we’ll be able to look at our new website and new name, new email, new Facebook.
LM: That’s so exciting! Lot of work, but exciting stuff.
LM: So you mentioned the tamales, and that’s something that, even when I first moved here, I kept hearing rumors about: you’ve gotta get the tamales! You’ve gotta get the tamales! So, what’s the best way for people to actually order tamales and how did y’all start offering that as a fundraiser?
NG: I think that tamales, it’s very cultural. Whenever you, even as a family, whenever you have a need, you’re going to think of – let’s make tamales and sell tamales. And that I think came from a group of people that used to be teachers here, that they saw a need for making a little bit more money to bring into the organization and they had the skill. Making tamales takes skill!
LM: Yeah, and so much time!
NG: Yeah! A lot of effort. This person decided he was going to start making tamales and he was going to start selling tamales. And ever since we do it as a fundraiser. And I think everybody knows us because of our tamales. It’s really interesting. I think the first thing that I heard when I joined as an ED was like – are you going to make the concert? And do you have tamales? Those were the first things that people asked me. Yeah!
So, we have tamales available. Right now we are getting orders through our website. On the website, you are able to order and pick the kind that you have. Obviously if we don’t have, you won’t be able to see that they are in stock. But if they are in stock, you will be able to pick from pork, chicken, and vegetarian. I don’t think there’s anybody in town that makes vegetarian tamales. Literally vegetarian tamales. All the ingredients are veggie-friendly.
LM: Like, no lard, or anything like that?
NG: No! Yeah, it’s really, really interesting. And they’re delicious, I just have to say that. They’re delicious. So we have them for sale, $25/dozen, and you can order through our website and that’s also going to be on our new website.
LM: Awesome. I’m glad that wasn’t my first question, then!
NG: Thank you!
LM: That’s so typical!
NG: I appreciate it.
LM: But like we had to get around to it! My stomach just growled when you were talking about it, too! Another thing that I think people ask about or maybe aren’t as clear on is the thrift shop next door. And that isn’t technically really part of this organization anymore, is it?
NG: It’s not. I think it used to be and I’m not sure, to be honest, when the transition happened. They are their own organization. However, since they are connected to our building and they’re also known to support people in the migrant community, it’s a great, another great resource to have next to us. They provide clothing and whenever they’re closed, then we try to support them with some referrals, but basically it’s a great place for them to find jackets, boots.
When they come, the first group that comes, and I’m talking migrant seasonal workers, usually H-2A visa holders, they come around January. And that’s a very cold time and a very unpredictable time that we really don’t know if it’s going to be sunny, or is it going to be raining, or is it going to be snowing. And they don’t come ready for that. You would say, if they’re coming every year, why don’t they bring their own jackets? I think it’s about also the resources. They pay for their own transportation. Obviously, they get reimbursed. But in the meantime, they don’t have a lot of resources. So the thrift store really supports in that way. And also, the families that are around here – again, we are super far away from everything, so having a thrift store really supports our mission.
LM: What’s one thing that you wish that people knew about the community that comes here to work, whether it’s a migrant or like, a permanent immigrant? Like, what’s one thing that you think is misunderstood that you just wish everybody knew?
NG: So many things – I don’t think I have just one.
LM: Top three!
NG: Top three. Ahh yeah, so we don’t, we’re not here for like, a couple of hours. I think the first one I already mentioned, and I can’t remember where I read this, or maybe I’m just talking about my own personal experience… Yeah, let me speak out of experience. I would say that it really took us, us meaning my family, it really took us about four to five years to feel comfortable here. To feel welcome. To feel that we knew a little bit about the systems – education system and also in the financial part, to feel that we were, that we started to feel better about our finances. More secure in that way. Not really because we were greedy or something, like you know…
Again, the reason why we migrate, and the idea of migration that we forget or maybe we don’t acknowledge, that migration – it’s natural. And because it’s natural, it shouldn’t be judged. It shouldn’t be attacked. It shouldn’t be seen as something unusual. That it should be something that is respected. Something that is admired! Because people leave their hometown, the place of birth, not because they want to. Not because they are willing to leave everything behind. They do it because they want a better life. And that’s just such a human thing!
Everything that we do – for us, for our families, it’s because we want to give a better life to our next generation. And it doesn’t matter what it takes. It doesn’t matter if it’s leaving everything, risking everything. Putting your life at danger. It doesn’t matter. It’s still going to be a better place. You’re still going to risk it to have a better life.
And when we think about now, the now, and the reason why people are migrating, why people are leaving. It’s because they are not safe. And that’s super sad. And we don’t recognize that. We only think of – ay! You’re coming over here and you’re taking my work and you’re taking this away from me. And not understanding that it’s not because we want to. It’s a sacrifice that we have to do.
I didn’t want to learn a second language. I struggled learning a second language. I still struggle understanding – the learning, it never stops. It’s a new word. It’s something new every single day. And, who wants to do that? No one! You are put in that space, as a child. As babies! I have so many friends who came here when they were babies. They didn’t get to choose. Again, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to blame the people that took that decision for you, because they wanted the best for you. They were only thinking for the best of your interests.
So those are the things that I wish people think, when they’re thinking of a stranger next to their home. Or somebody at the store that looks different than you. Or somebody that is driving and they have a different color skin. You know, we don’t think of those things. We don’t make it personal. I hope that people make it personal. I wish that people make it personal. I wish that they would be wearing their shoes for at least a day. Because, again, coming to a place that you don’t know – and, some of the people are blessed enough to have family, some of them are not, some of them come into cities that they’ve never been to, that they don’t know anybody, and, imagine that? Imagine walking into that space. Not knowing the language, not having a job, not having a place to live. And those are things that we have to survive.
And yeah. That’s migration. It’s a real thing. And should be natural. Should be something that, instead of saying, I don’t know you, we should say, I welcome you. How can I support you?
LM: People forget that a huge percent of their ancestors and everything did exactly the same thing. And you know, if they weren’t coming here from somewhere else, they were displacing someone else. And like, throughout our history, people have moved. And that’s never going to stop! It’s just going to continue.
NG: No, it won’t stop. But I think we could learn from it! And we could embrace it. And we could create better systems. Currently our immigration system – it’s so broken. And old fashioned. And it just creates more obstacles to people that are trying to do better. And the answer, it’s, no you can’t. And it’s hard. It’s hard to think that, we can’t do better? I think we can. As a humanity we have so much to learn, so much to change.
I know, like, I know it takes time. I know it takes changing mindsets. It takes a lot of courage to say, wow, I don’t think we’re doing that right. To be accountable for the mistakes that we have done in the past. But, we can change. It’s just a matter of understanding that, at the end of the day, we’re humans and we need to support each other. And love each other. And accept each other. Instead of seeing differences among us.
LM: That’s so beautifully said. How many people do you usually serve – like, what’s the size of the population that you’re usually working with?
NG: Last year, we served between 400 and 500. And that could be maybe repetitive members from different years. I believe there is about 300 visas that are given out every year, or that come to this area every year, so that’s around the population that we try to reach. If we think about immigrants that settle here, we’re thinking about more than that. I believe we are 23% of Latino population in Grand Valley [LM note: that is the percent for the state of Colorado]. Based from last census. That was what, two years ago?
So we are growing pretty fast. Definitely we are next to other counties with higher populations that are much smaller and are growing even faster, that are creating the services that their community needs, and we sometimes are staying behind.
So it’s really interesting to see the number of people that come in, the number of people that are out there, and the number of people that we could be reaching.
LM: How did you get into this as a career? What made you want to do this?
NG: So, I came to United States when I was 12, and obviously, had to learn the language. I came when there wasn’t – I think the school district was just starting with creating the English as a second language program. I remember we used to live in Riverside and I would have to take a bus all the way from Riverside to Grand Mesa Middle School, which is like, Clifton area. And then, the community started to grow.
Obviously I had to go through the system. I started in middle school, then high school, then college. And I started to see the need in our community. The needs in our community. How we were not able to connect to some of the resources that were granted for other people, and how language played a big role in it.
So, even though I started to see that, I wanted to be an architect! I wanted to build houses, I wanted to make houses! But then, I didn’t have the resources to go to architecture school. And so I started in Spanish, as a Spanish major.
People would ask me, so, you know Spanish, but you’re taking Spanish as your major? And I was like yeah – just like English can be a major! I learned so much, you know. I learned about – in my transition, as a child, I lost a lot of my education. The literature, the history, that I didn’t learn, because I was busy learning a second language. And that was a time and the privilege that I had to be able to go to school and learn that at that time. And my grammar, you know. I didn’t know the grammar, the rules in grammar. It was really hard to say, like, I don’t know where an accent goes, or I don’t know what kind of word this is.
So I had the opportunity to learn that at that time, but that was also the connection that I got to the community, and that’s when I started to get more involved in community. The first time that I got super involved was I became part of a youth group in high school. And that group decided to do an event. We wanted to celebrate the Mexican Independence, and we were able to do a community event, bringing everybody together. And we did it in Riverside. I think we closed off some roads, we brought a band, vendors, and we did like a big festival.
And that’s when I learned – I want to be involved with the community. I want to be able to connect with the community and just be around. So, as I graduated from college, I started to get more involved. I started to join community organizations that were involved with social work. With immigration reform. And I joined organizations, joined boards.
Then later, that’s when I found the job with the school district, and it was with the migrant education program. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Then I learned that, I wasn’t really that far away from what I really wanted to do. In that program, I went back and realized that, I did my community service in that program, and then years later, I was working for that program.
And it was really nice to remind myself that, this is what I want to do. I want to make sure that I connect with community, that I can empower, that I can help, that I can help connect and provide resources. And that was basically my role – to find community that were eligible for the program and connect them to the program. And it was really nice because the program is connected to 20 school districts around us. They cover western slope. And we got to travel. We got to go different places. We got to go to Delta, to Eagle, to Steamboat. Like, different areas. And that was really, really nice to be able to do. Not only learn from your community, but learn from different communities. And people growing in different other communities.
And that’s how I – then I got this opportunity! I worked here two years ago, as an outreach person first, but it was for about a month – summertime, and I learned a little bit. I volunteered also, previously to that, but you know, volunteering and working is different than being THE leader. When the position opened up, I wanted a bigger challenge. I thought I was ready for a bigger challenge. And applied. And I think I’m here because of the experience, because of my background, and what I can give to this organization.
LM: What’s a typical day like?
NG: This year is changing. Last year we were short staffed and it was hard. I was new in my position, and we were only two. And we were serving about 300 people. The first meal that we had last summer, we had about 100 in a day, and there were only two of us. So, it was really hard.
Last year I was learning everything that the community was needing, everything that we were supposed to do as an organization. We were working on our strategic plan, we were working on so many things. So it was really hands-on last year. Very hands-on. I was helping serve meals, I was helping organizing the whole meals, resources. I was taking a lot of roles and a day was really, really hard. I enjoyed it. I learned a lot. But now, it’s different. As we start to have a bigger staff, I am now finally able to take my ED role. Which is another learning curve for me. I am enjoying it.
A day, it’s, right now, planning our re-branding event. All the pieces that we need to get together for that to happen. Working in programming. What are the resources that we want to provide this summer. How the calendar looks like. And connecting to resources in the community. Making that connection. In order for them to come here, I have to do my work and connect to them. They’re going to be busy. And sometimes they’re not going to connect to me. So I have to do that part. Connections. So a lot of meetings. Trainings. It’s important, this is a time where I really need to get, to learn the skills I need to be able to do my work. So I am taking a class. I try to benefit from different trainings that are available out there. And also talking to other organizations that I can learn from.
So yeah, a day, it’s being on the computer, organizing, planning, and connecting to community. And then my other part is supporting my staff. Supporting my new Office Admin. Right now, it’s only two of us, again. But I know that, in a week, we’ll be three, which, that’s going to feel great. It’ll continue to be the challenge for me to learn everything that I need in order to be a good leader.
LM: When you do get a day off, how do you enjoy it?
NG: I haven’t had a day off!
LM: IF you do get a day off!
NG: I hope that I get at least a half day off. I already have plans for that. I have different things that I need to do in my personal life that I need to take care of, and that’s really the time that I have. I’ve been trying to do a lot of more self-care. Last year I did not do good in self-care. It’s hard. It was hard. I was working really long hours. I would work here, and then take a break for dinner, and then keep working.
And I realized that that was not going to be sustainable for me. And not a model for the people that I’m working with, because I care about them too, and if they see me working, they’ll continue to work, and I don’t want that. I want them to know that there are limits to the work. That we cannot take care of the community if we don’t take care of ourselves.
That’s like, one rule that we have to remember, as service providers. You really can’t do that. You have to take care of yourself. Mentally, your health. Spiritually. Because it can be really, sometimes, hard, when people don’t understand the changes. They can have a different perspective, and sometimes that perspective, they’re not going to tell you in a beautiful way, and I am the one receiving those negative comments. Which I understand. It’s about information, giving information and why we’re going that route.
So on those days, I just disconnect. I just try to disconnect. I literally leave my phone in the bedroom, I turn it off, and then even, just spending time with my husband, spending time with my mom, my sister, my dad, that are here locally. Just even taking them out to eat, or spending dinner with them, spending the day shopping. Literally trying to disconnect from the daily work – that’s my best therapy.
LM: What’s your favorite thing about the community in this area?
NG: Favorite thing… I don’t know if it’s a thing, or what you would classify as a thing!
LM: Or whatever! I don’t know, like the view or the farmer’s market or…
NG: OK, that’s easier.
LM: …or Oscar!
NG: Yeah! I love the valley. I am in love with the valley. Every time people ask me, would you go live somewhere, I say, no. And it’s – I come from Mexico City. A huge city.
LM: Huge city!
NG: Huge city! And when people tell me, you don’t want to go back to a huge city, I say, no! I’ve been here for such a long time. And it really took me long. To be able to say: this is my home. This is my home, too. It took me a long time. To feel welcome. To feel part of the community. And I don’t want that to happen to other people. That’s what I do. That’s the reason that I do everything I do. I don’t want the same feeling to go to our new people, because I know what my family and I went through. And I think that’s why – I think it’s so hard to think of another change again. To say, oh, I’m going to go to another place. It’s not like language – when you learn a second language, you are able to learn many more. It doesn’t work like that! It’s different.
And, yeah, I love Grand Junction. I love the mountains. I love the blue skies. I don’t think I was able to see like, this clear blue sky in the city. Or the beautiful stars at night. The fresh air. I didn’t see that. I remember the city in a different way. I remember the city thinking of my family. Thinking of my cousins, uncles, aunts, my grandma, you know. That’s what I remember. I don’t remember the city as a place, I remember city as the people in there. The people there.
But it’s different here. I’ve been here for 23 years. I think of Grand Junction as the place that I want to live and I want to stay at, but also, like, my home. Yeah. And yeah, again, when people ask me would you like to move somewhere, I say, no.
But also, I miss the mountains. Every time I get to travel, even though I’ve been to such beautiful places, I miss the mountains, you know. Those beautiful skies. When the sun is going down, and you see the orange, and you see the teal in the sky, and the white, and all those beautiful colors – you don’t see that any other place.
LM: No, I love that so much. And that moment, when you catch it, when everything has that pink light on it – it’s just so special.
NG: And I think I’m so – like, where my office is, you can see all the mountains, but when I come in, obviously I come in in the morning, but then, I literally go home at the time that the sun is going down. This is a reminder – go home, Nelly! But it gives me the chance to see that. To see the beauty of nature and that we are surrounded.
I don’t get to go a lot to nature. I don’t get to go hiking in the Monument, I don’t get to hiking at Mount Garfield, or even go to the Mesa. But I know, in the times that I’ve been there, it’s like such a big privilege to have such beautiful nature around us. And to be able to say that, we do take care of it. And to be here and feel safe.
LM: Well thank you so much for your time, and for everything that you do for the community, and for just, your passion – it’s awesome. Thank you.
NG: No, thank you for giving me the space to share a little bit about me, share a little bit of La Plaza, and our vision, the changes, the excitement, and basically share a little bit of our community.
We’re going to have our open house on April 19th. I think we’ve already started to advertise our new name, so it’s not a secret! We’re going to have the open house, our new website’s going to launch the same day. Our new website is laplazapalisade.org. We’re also going to have our new Facebook page, also La Plaza. What else?
LM: What time is the open house?
NG: Open house will be from 5-7. We’re going to have dancers, music, and we’re going to have tamales. Light refreshment. And yeah – please come enjoy your time here! Our board is going to be here. If you haven’t been in the building before, it will be the opportunity to get to know the changes around the building. We’ve been doing remodeling here and there. Last year, city of Palisade was generous to help us remodel or really change our backyard, so there’s a lot going on. So come, enjoy yourself, and it’s really our time to celebrate all the work that we’ve been putting into, so much work. And so much planning. But I think it’ll be a great opportunity to really get to know the new Plaza.
LM: I’m really looking forward to it! Thank you so much, thanks for sharing your story, and for everything. I appreciate it.
If you are interested in being on the show or if you have ideas for a future show, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at lisa(at)postcardsfrompalisade.com.
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Thanks for listening. With love, from Palisade.