Growing up in Cornelius, Oregon, Juan Carlos González’ childhood memories include everything from attending weddings and baptism parties to helping his dad with his landscaping work on weekends. Those memories also include a very special gathering place, Centro Cultural de Washington County, affectionately known by locals as ‘el centro’.
Juan’s family has had a relationship with el centro since before his birth. It began with his father, who was just a teenager when he arrived in Cornelius from Mexico. El centro was there to help support young men and women like Juan’s dad; finding a place of familiarity far from home meant so much back then. Juan shares that “el centro helped them feel like they belonged.”
From Washington County to Washington DC
Juan is proud of his academic accomplishments. He graduated from high school as a valedictorian of his class and was accepted to Georgetown University with a full-ride scholarship.
Post-graduation, it’s no surprise that he would return to take a position with el centro. “[It’s] all a part of the legacy of giving back,” Juan shares.
The desire to give back and support other youth and families the way he was supported led him, as el centro’s Director of Development and Communications, to partner with foundations such as The Oregon Community Foundation (OCF).
Juan remembers the first collaboration with OCF, a project to design a culturally specific dental education program in the community. He recalls that “kids were experiencing poor dental health” and “as a result, kids were missing school.” That initial collaboration introduced him to the Latino Partnership Program (LPP).
Juan was invited by Roberto Franco, the OCF’s LPP Director, to attend a series of conversations with emerging Latino leaders in Salem, Oregon. The purpose was to educate, inspire and encourage young Latinos to become more active as community leaders, or to choose public office as a career. In those conversations, one of the key lessons for Juan was that “OCF has a unique approach with Latinos… I think there’s a lot of value to that.”
Now two and a half years into his employment with el centro, he values the partnership with LPP because of the knowledge he’s gained and the relationships he’s built. When asked his thoughts on whether the LPP at OCF has made a difference in Oregon, Juan stated “I definitely do.” His reasoning: “[G]iven the way demographics are shifting, a culturally specific program and equity lens [adds] to the effectiveness of work. The LPP can be a force in innovative programming.”