Reflecting on the roots of the Winters Hispanic Advisory Committee

Winters Middle School students volunteered to help serve food at the Festival de on Sept. 24, 2016. Courtesy photo

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The Express is sharing a two-part series in celebration of the Winters Hispanic Advisory Committee’s 15 years of service to the community.

By Jesse Loren and Leticia Quirarte
Special to the Express

The initial inspiration for the Winters HAC came as a call to bridge more services and opportunities within the local Spanish speaking community. Late in 2005, Father Chuck from St. Anthony Parish Hall invited members of North Valley Sponsoring Committee (NVSC) — an affiliate of PICO National Network — to come to Winters to talk to members of the community about how they could make city-wide changes if they learned to organize themselves.

There were trainings, meetings, and questions about what Winters needed most to improve the lives of residents. Brian Heller de Leon and other members from NVSC-PICO helped the group to organize and investigate community needs. In May of 2006, NVSC and St. Anthony Parish organized a town hall and 125 residents mobilized to show support for after school programs and improved communication from City Hall.

Winters didn’t have Munchkin Camp yet. Winters didn’t have a goal of having bilingual employees at the city counters. But that was about to change. The early group that formed was called the Ministry of Community Transformation.

Together, that group received training, held meetings, and created a survey to evaluate the needs of the community. Each member carried the survey to their neighbors and a list of needs was compiled from the responses of the community. That group also worked together to build a bridge among Latino residents and public officials in Winters. The members presented their finding to then City Manager John W. Donlevy, Jr.

The group’s outreach resulted in a list for community improvement. Some of the top 10: Affordable after-school programming for children, Citizenship classes, English classes, Low income Housing, Spanish speakers at city counters to interface with the public, bilingual speakers in the Recreation program, a bilingual city newsletter (which became the newsletter in Winters water bill). In the past, the city had recreation programs, but they were English only and didn’t reach out to offer a bridge to the large Spanish speaking community.

The City Newsletter in the water bill became a bilingual newsletter, which goes to homeowners and renters was one of the first changes. It simply didn’t exist as a bilingual newsletter in Winters before HAC. Much of the foundational work was done in 2006. North Valley Sponsoring Committee, the Ministry of Community Transformation, St. Anthony Parish and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF) hosted the first Citizenship Forum here in Winters.

In the same year members of NVSC could no longer continue in Winters, only Heller de Leon continued to be available to support the group. Many of the Ministry of Community Transformation members were invited by the city to be members of the new advisory committee.

Former Mayors Woody Fridae and Assembly Member Cecilia Aguiar Curry, and Donlevy worked with the Ministry group to form the first Community Advisory Committee by Resolution for an under-served population: The Hispanic Advisory Committee (HAC) was born. The primary focus of the committee was the development and improvement of three key areas for the Latino community: Involvement, Access and Outreach.

HAC, with the support of Heller de Leon, City of Winters, Winters Joint Unified School District, and the Department of Parks and Recreation worked together to apply for grants to address the community need for Winters children. In 2007, the city was awarded $400,000 by the State of California to begin an after-school program to serve children 5-10, this led to the development of Munchkin Camp. On March 22, 2007, HAC hosted a Latino Community Meeting to highlight areas of concern and to seek interest regarding needed services, programs, community needs for health and safety.

After the information was gathered, the key needs were as follows:

  • Need for translation of printed materials from the city and need to hire bilingual employees.
  • Affordable Housing- the city needs to increase affordable housing unit inventory for families.
  • First Time Home Buyer Program to help people get into their first homes.
  • Senior home rehabilitation program to assist seniors address health and safety needs in their homes.
  • Foreclosure workshop- help residents understand their rights and responsibilities to avoid foreclosure.
  • Recreation- Need for a robust program for after school care.
  • Information Nights- The committee hosted a successful program on Estate Planning and different City departments have shared each department’s scope of responsibility.
  • Children in the community requested a festival that celebrates culture, and the request was valued.

HAC was off to a running start. The first festival HAC organized was “Festival de la Cosecha” held on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007. It had food and some entertainment for children. Many of the same folks that organized the first event are still organizing today.

In 2008, the first classes in Spanish for First Time Homebuyers were organized by HAC at City Hall. This led to people being able to buy and stay in Winters. That same year, Winters Healthcare, North Valley Sponsoring Committee and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF) helped form the second Citizenship orientation.

This event ushered residents through the process of becoming US Citizens. Fun fact, from 2008-2012 Citizenship forums occurred annually. And at the Festival in 2012, the Buckhorn and El Pueblo competed in the cook-off. Mariachis were featured as well as Sacramento Koyasan Taiko drumming.

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