CHANGING LIVES …
ONE FAMILY AT A TIME

In 2003, Sister Mary Rita Rohde, a Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM) of the U.S.-Ontario Province, founded Nuestra Casa.

She conducted in-depth interviews with 80 people to determine the greatest unmet needs among low income women and children in the Lower Yakima Valley. The results of the interviews indicated that the greatest needs were those of the immigrant Hispanic population, particularly the women.

Through Sister’s dedication and perseverance, Nuestra Casa quickly became known as a place where women could find resources, educational services, support and empowerment. To date, Nuestra Casa annually assists over 1,000 immigrant adults through classes, workshops, and referral services.

Mission

Through education, empowerment and mutual support, Nuestra Casa enables immigrant women to create positive changes in themselves, their families, and their communities.

Team

Caty Padilla, Executive Director

Caty is the daughter of immigrants who settled in the Lower Yakima Valley in 1990. She was raised like many farm worker’s children, migrating along the Yakima River throughout the valley as her parents looked for new job opportunities. Caty attended schools in the Toppenish, Granger and Wapato school districts. After graduating in 2007 she landed a full-time job that allowed her the flexibility she needed to enroll at Heritage University.

At Heritage University Caty participated in Enactus (formerly known as SIFE) and majored in Business Administration. During her participation with Enactus, she really connected with the ideal that one could give back to the community by leading with a mindset for business but a heart for the world.  Shortly before graduating in 2017, she accepted the role as Executive Director for Nuestra Casa. Caty looks forward to helping immigrant women in the community prosper and obtain learning opportunities empowering them to battle the inequities in our communities.

Luz Rodriguez, Program Coordinator

I am an immigrant Latina who came to the United States in 1990. As many people who come to Nuestra Casa, I attended ESL classes and citizenship classes. Soon after, I obtained my GED and my U.S. citizenship. I have been part of the Nuestra Casa team since 2010. In 2012, I was able to achieve a transferable AA college undergraduate degree thanks to the encouragement I received from students and colleagues here at Nuestra Casa. I enjoy being able to support individuals who need assistance as I did back in 1990. One of the things that I love the most about my work at Nuestra Casa is witnessing people learn or improve their English skills. I am always available to answer questions and provide encouragement to anyone who walks through our doors. I look forward to coming to work every single day knowing that, as individuals, we can make a difference in someone’s life.

Board of Directors

Mary Rita Rohde, SNJM
Mary Rita Rohde, SNJMFoundress, President and Consultant
Isela Mendoza
Isela MendozaBoard Member
Gina Gamboa
Gina GamboaBoard Member
Irma de Prieto
Irma de PrietoBoard Member
Roberta Garrison
Roberta GarrisonSecretary/Treasurer
Martha Rickey
Martha RickeyBoard Member
Brenda Viega
Brenda ViegaVice President
Tom Ghlen
Tom GhlenBoard Member
Kevin McColly
Kevin McCollyBoard Member
Caty Padilla
Caty PadillaBoard Member

History

Origins

In 2002, Sister Mary Rita Rohde returned to Sunnyside from her 5-year term of leadership for the Sisters of the Holy Names in Montreal, QC, Canada.  Because she was granted a few month’s sabbatical, she began a discernment process to determine what her next ministry would be.  S. Mary Rita interviewed 80 people individually and in small groups who worked with low-income people in the Lower Yakima Valley, asking the question, “What is the greatest unmet need among low-income women and children in the Lower Yakima Valley (Sunnyside, Grandview, Mabton, Granger)?”  The data from these interviews were shared with other Sisters of the Holy Names in the Valley and together they prayed and discerned that the persons most in need were immigrant women.  The Sisters suggested that S. Mary Rita start an educational ministry for immigrant women.  That led to the founding of Nuestra Casa as a 501(c)3 non-profit.

The Leadership Team of the Sisters of the Holy Names in Washington approved this new ministry and granted the money needed for the first year’s activities, as well as half of the funding needed for the second year.  A Board of Directors and a Development Committee were established.

A Mission Statement was drawn up and approved, and planning began for the first program offerings which happened in January 2003.

Our First Home

At that time the Pastor of the Sunnyside Catholic Church generously offered to let Nuestra Casa occupy the house next to the former St. Joseph’s School and to let us use the school’s unoccupied classrooms for our classes.

Early ESL Programs

Sr. Mary Rita teaching English

From the beginning we did not want to duplicate services that were offered by other agencies or logically should be offered by other agencies.  We also sought out agencies and organizations with whom we could collaborate.  Early meetings with the President of Yakima Valley Community College and with the Superintendent of the Sunnyside School District resulted in those two agencies collaborating to offer English as a Second Language classes for adults.  The college provided the teachers and the school district provided the space and childcare.

Nuestra Casa staff helped recruit participants and closely followed the program to be sure that the immigrants were attending classes and learning English.  Because so many immigrants stopped attending those classes they were ended by the college and school district.  Then, we asked local churches to consider offering evening ESL classes taught by volunteers in their churches.  Such classes were held at the Sunnyside United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, Seventh Day Adventist Church and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.  At about the same time Nuestra Casa began offering morning ESL classes and established a Montessori style pre-school for the preschoolers of women who attended our classes at the old St. Joseph’s school.

Driver’s License Classes

We learned early that many adult immigrants did not have driver’s licenses, so we collaborated with a police officer from Mabton to offer evening driver’s license classes in Spanish.  Since there is no public transportation in the Lower Yakima Valley, until we offered these classes hundreds of immigrants were driving without licenses.  After a few years, the Mabton police officer could no longer teach these classes for us so we collaborated with the Sunnyside Police department to teach the classes at Nuestra Casa.

Health Concerns

Nutrition Classes

Health was another area of concern for immigrant women.  We collaborated with the Yakima Valley Farmworkers Clinic in Toppenish through which they paid doctors to come to Nuestra Casa in Sunnyside to offer workshops on specific topics such as cancer.  Later, we collaborated with the Farmworkers Clinic to offer parenting classes about child development to immigrant parents.  Other health related offerings included diabetes testing and education given by a volunteer nurse; exercise classes led by a volunteer; nutrition and cooking classes offered by various volunteers, including cooking classes held at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church.

Women’s Justice Circles

Justice Circle

For several years we collaborated with the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center in Seattle in facilitating “Women’s Justice Circles”.  The very detailed materials for facilitating these Circles were in Spanish so the process led to some significant learning by immigrant women.  Dozens of women participated in these Circles which taught them how to advocate for themselves, for their families, and for their community.  One significant issue that immigrant women chose to work on was eliminating the state’s WASL exam which their children had to take and which they noted made some of their children physically sick because of worrying about the test.  Their action included meeting with the Sunnyside School District Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent, the Sunnyside School Board, State Representatives in Olympia and the State Superintendent of Schools.  This action by local immigrant women, in concert with other groups in the State, led to the replacement of the WASL with a much shorter and less stressful state test.

Citizenship Classes

Because so many immigrants had a difficult time with the whole process of becoming a citizen, Nuestra Casa began offering Citizenship classes taught by a volunteer who also helped with the citizenship application process.  Eventually, we hired a teacher for the citizenship classes because of the great need.

Five-Year Anniversary Celebration

In 2008, Nuestra Casa celebrated our fifth year of serving immigrants with a special dinner at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church.  In attendance were Nuestra Casa Board members, Development Committee members, staff, and donors.

Learning to Arrange Flowers

Referral Services

Because so many immigrant adults did not know about services and systems in the Valley, Nuestra Casa took up the task of learning about resources and sharing that with participants.  That has led to a steady stream of adults coming to Nuestra Casa for various referral services.

Ten-Year Anniversary Celebration

Our 10th year of serving immigrants was celebrated with a special dinner at the Sunnyside Presbyterian Church in 2013.  This festive occasion brought together Nuestra Casa participants, donors, Board and committee members, staff, and several Sisters who have supported Nuestra Casa.  Special “Gracias Awards” were presented to Dick and Barbara Golob for their generous financial support and for Dick’s service as a Board member, to Holy Names Sisters Ann Pizelo and Linda Riggers for the Sisters financial support to establish Nuestra Casa, and to Dominican Sister Judy Byron for her service on our Board and for the Adrian Dominican financial support.

New Director

In 2012, Sister Mary Rita thought it was time to end her tenure as the Director of Nuestra Casa, but to continue teaching English. Esperanza Lemos was hired to be Assistant Director for several months and then moved into being the Executive Director in 2013.  During this time a contract was made with the Sunnyside School District for Nuestra Casa to teach evening ESL classes in one of the local schools.  Because of Nuestra Casa’s success at engaging and teaching immigrant adults, those evening classes continue at Nuestra Casa with the support of the School District.

Sunnyside United Methodist Church

New Home at Sunnyside United Methodist Church

In 2015, Nuestra Casa moved to the Sunnyside United Methodist Church and occupied the whole second floor of the educational wing of the church.  This new space fit our needs very well with one classroom set up as a Montessori preschool, one classroom as an office for the three staff and volunteers, and space that is flexible enough to make five classrooms or two large rooms.

Cultivating Partnerships

We are proud that Nuestra Casa has become a household name in our tight-knit communities. However, this does not mean our job is done. We are always striving to find new ways and partners to help support our efforts in educating the immigrant community.

Many community members, individuals, organizations and businesses have stepped forward to partner with Nuestra Casa. Assisting and participating with us in different types of events has helped us become attuned to the ever-changing needs of our community.

So, next time you see us at an event, stop by and chat. We’d love to listen to you.

CHANGE A LIFE TODAY

“People’s lives are changed when they have access to education.”
Sr. Mary Rita Rohde, SNJM

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