Ruth Jones works for Oregon State University's Open Campus as a Latino Program Coordinator for an underserved population, in addition to serving on numerous nonprofit boards. She describes her job as one that "is truly rewarding."
The program she works for, "JUNTOS," means "Together" in English, and is in every middle and high school in the region. Jones and JUNTOS help families understand the educational system and give them knowledge of post-secondary instruction, using the families' native language, Spanish.
Jones said the program sees a 100% graduation rate for every participating student, with 92% continuing onto post-secondary education of some sort.
Parts of our conversation took place in Spanish.
Source Weekly: Is there someone you'd like to recognize in the community?
Ruth Jones: I wouldn't even know where to start! I have so many of them, but for me, the women I would highlight would be the moms in the community—las mamas—our Latina moms, for their strength and their courage. Doing this work has exposed me to the moms that have three jobs that are doing the single mom life. Those are things that we don't talk about—no es parte de la cultura—to even bring those up and elevate. And we have a lot of incredible women, so I don't have just one!
I do want to add to the story that the young lady celebrated [this year's Young Hero winner], Angie Acevedo, was a former JUNTOS participant. And how cool it was for her parents to attend this event to celebrate her accomplishments. Full circle was seen in one evening and in one event.
"What a community hero is, it's those people that come back to retrieve the rest of us, and say, I didn't forget about you. I see you." - Ruth Jonestweet this
SW: What does the term "community hero" mean to you?
RJ: I can't identify. I can't. Because I don't see myself in that role. I know what a hero means to me, and for me, my hero is my dad and I think I said this in the interview with the whole team, but I feel like I'm just doing my job, but what that means is just standing up and having courage. People that are creating the path for those of us to walk through, and before me there were other people. For me to now be able to enter schools, somebody had to have gone before me and broken down the barriers and said, 'OK, now this program is coming in.'
Going back to what a community hero is, it's those people that come back to retrieve the rest of us, and say, I didn't forget about you. I see you. And to be seen is so critically important in this very, very white community.
SW: Can you talk a little more about your dad?
RJ: Mi Papá, Patrocinio Galvan Cadena, just everything from his name to his journey... to what every immigrant wants when they come into the U.S. It's not the stigma of 'we're bad people,' it's, 'we want better.' And he had the opportunity to come to the U.S. through the Bracero program in 1954. My dad sadly only lived to be 55 because of, I am guessing, all of the trauma he went through.
Farm worker. Through and through, never stopped. We lived in the San Joaquin Valley from beginning to end of this beautiful journey for my parents. The place of the Cesar Chavez movement in Delano, California, is where my dad passed away—so even that, just an incredible story to tell.
SW: What does this award mean to you?
RJ: It means legacy. It means being able to tell his story. It's humbling. But I think it's an opportunity to say what isn't being said. The stories. Every family has got one. And what we don't say, what we sugarcoat to try and fit in to this culture, and how does that transform our kids, and to come back and say, it's OK that you recognize and honor what your parents did for you. This gives that opportunity, because I never got the chance to say that to my dad.
Each of the women nominated are modeling what we should all be doing, every single day. I am extremely humbled and grateful for the recognition. I look forward to events like this celebrating all diversities and am thankful that U.S. Bank [a sponsor and presenter at the awards] sent the message of priority around the work of DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] in our community.