Healdsburg’s Corazón creating a ‘college-going’ culture
Jose Gutiérrez, a retired vineyard worker who came to Healdsburg 35 years ago from Jalisco, Mexico, tried taking English classes in the past, but said he was always too busy with work to stick with them.
Now the 70-year-old father of eight children and grandfather of 10 is in his second semester of English and says “little by little I’m learning English. It’s very important to learn. It’s never too late.”
“It’s very important to talk to everybody,” he said, explaining how he can use his new language proficiency “at the store, or the doctor.”
Gutiérrez’s comments came during a morning break from an English-as-a-Second-Language class offered through Corazón Healdsburg, whose mission is to bridge the racial and economic divide and break cycles of poverty to improve the quality of life for Latino families.
The nonprofit organization, which opened its doors in 2016, operates a drop-in center where residents can obtain assistance or referrals to find housing, address immigration questions, connect with legal aid and medical help and even get free groceries once a month.
“It’s a safe place, where people feel comfortable. Their language is spoken and they see people that look like them,” said Corazón’s Director of Community Engagement Leticia Romero, as she sat near a wall mural with colorful images of iconic Latino personalities. Depicted are farm labor leaders Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, artist Frida Kahlo and Mexico’s first indigenous president, Benito Juárez.
Located in Healdsburg’s Community Center — the former Foss Creek Elementary School campus now owned by the city — Corazón makes use of the classrooms to conduct twice-weekly English sessions taught by Santa Rosa Junior College instructors in the mornings and evenings. Corazón also provides infant and child day care on-site for enrolled parents.
There are classes taught in Spanish for financial literacy and high school equivalency diploma. Clients can access a computer, take a math class to start a small business and even get help with income tax preparation.
More than 1,000 clients a year are served by the educational programs, according to Chief Executive Officer Ariel Kelley.
“Corazón” — the Spanish word for heart — was the brainchild of local restaurateurs Ari Rosen and Dawnelise Regnery Rosen who, about 10 years ago, began holding fundraising dinners with a goal to raise $50,000 to launch the nonprofit.
Rosen, who grew up in Ukiah and attended cross-cultural events organized by Nuestra Casa Mendocino, saw the need for a similar organization to provide social services for Healdsburg’s Latino residents, who comprise 34% of the population, according to the 2010 Census.
Mexican immigrants are considered the backbone of Healdsburg’s hotel, restaurant and wine industry, but are also among the lowest paid.
Donors have stepped up to help through Corazón, boosting its annual budget to $399,000.
“We’re successful because of the generosity of the community, but also the strength of our work,” Kelley said.
Last year the Healdsburg City Council approved a three-year lease for Corazón to move into the Community Center classrooms and offices in 2017, in exchange for providing services such as translation and outreach to the Latino community for city recreational programs, nutritional health and wellness and public safety workshops.