Springs Eternal - Gina Cuclis


Building leadership in the Latino community

Springs resident Alejandra Cervantes is an inspiring individual with a personal mission – to encourage and help her Latino neighbors get involved in the community.

Cervantes is the full-time, unpaid executive director of Nuestra Voz, a nonprofit whose mission is to develop leadership among the Latino community in Sonoma Valley. Thanks to an arrangement with Burbank Housing, Nuestra Voz’s home base is the community room at Springs Village Apartments located at the end of Vailetti Drive.

Cervantes, along with former co-director Gabriel Sanchez and now retired community organizer Zuli Baron, founded Nuestra Voz in 2000. Three years ago, when Sanchez decided to enter the seminary to become a priest, Cervantes quit her paid job to run Nuestra Voz full-time.

Cervantes came to Sonoma Valley 30 years ago from Michoacán, Mexico. She said she got involved in the community shortly after arriving. Her first volunteer activity was coordinating the youth group at St. Francis Solano Church. She said her initial motivation for starting an organization about building leadership was because of “seeing how Latino children were not going to college. They had a high drop out rate.”

“A little voice in my head said, if we don’t do something, we’ll end up like Richmond and Oakland,” she said.

Cervantes and I sat down together last week for a long chat at one of Nuestra Voz’s program sites — the Community Garden in Larson Park. If you missed last month’s open house at the garden, I highly recommend you check it out. You can stop by anytime during park hours.

I especially recommend visiting, if you’re one of the folks who stopped going to Larson Park due to its former gang troubles. The community garden and other improvements such as new playground equipment, has created a community presence of activity taking Larson Park back from the gang members. I think the park hasn’t looked this good in the 24 years I’ve lived in the Springs.

The community garden is a prime example of Nuestra Voz’s philosophy of empowering people to be engaged in solving community issues. Cervantes said, “We encourage people to be involved instead of complaining.”

The Larson Park Community Garden is the first community garden to be developed in a Sonoma County Regional Park. It provides low and moderate-income families, particularly those living in multi-family housing, with the opportunity to grow organic produce and have access to healthy food. The county approved the garden in 2010. The first planting was in June last year. Sonoma Materials, owned by Tony Garcia, donated the materials and labor to construct the 25 boxes for the raised beds. Mission Gardens donated plants and seeds. The Sonoma Valley Garden Club is currently helping with a drip irrigation system.

Mental health, literacy and substance abuse are other issues Nuestra Voz is addressing. It also operates a soccer club, provides exercise classes, and organizes the annual Mexican Independence Day celebration at the Sonoma Plaza. For more information about Nuestra Voz contact Nuestravozsonoma.org or 939-9369.

Highway 12 Project Update

Sonoma County Public Works Department officials plan to open the construction bids April 23 for our Highway 12 sidewalk project. Tom O’Kane, public works assistant director for transportation, said because it’s a large project, he’s hoping for good prices. O’Kane also said before CalTrans will issue the encouragement permit, which is needed to begin construction, it must receive all the utility relocations and modifications. He said AT&T has been slow to respond. He’s being hopeful, because if AT&T doesn’t respond soon, it could delay construction.

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