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Farewell to Communida Unida director

Merry Thomas, Sun News Service

KINGS BEACH – She’s getting herself into hot water this time – literally. Josie Garcia, executive director of La Comunidad Unida, her husband Joe and her daughter Valerie, are moving to Agua Caliente, Mexico. Josie’s last day at LCU will be Aug. 31.

“We’re excited about it. It’s something we’ve been planning for a long time,” Garcia said. The family’s main reason for moving to Mexico is to further their ministry work. Both Josie and Joe are active Jehovah’s Witnesses, and while at a religious convention last year, they discovered some materials about ministry opportunities in Mexico.

“I know I want to set up a school to teach English,” Garcia said. The seed for this idea was planted on a recent trip to Agua Caliente, a mountain city in central Mexico. A new acquaintance, upon learning about the family’s intentions to move, took Josie aside and told her there are few English instructors who speak English without an accent; she would have no problem attracting students.

The concept took root immediately.

“I’ve started to collect materials for teaching,” Garcia said. Those who know Josie are not surprised by this. Once she becomes fired up by an idea – something she believes in, some way she can contribute toward others – she takes the ball and runs with it.

In fact, that’s how she became involved first with Tahoe Women’s Services, then with Project M.A.N.A. and finally with La Comunidad Unida. There’s no question about Garcia’s commitment when she tackles a project.

In spite of their excitement about the new venture Garcia was not willing to leave until someone was ready to take over leadership of LCU.

And that someone is Chris Ballin, a previous director of the organization who will officially take over on Sept. 17.

When Garcia took the reins of the organization two years ago, LCU had been closed for three months.

“People would knock on the door and ask if we were open,” she said. During those first few months, the average number of people who came to LCU was between 25 and 30. Now, at least 100 come to the agency each month, she said.

The community has gradually grown in its support of LCU, Garcia said. Until very recently this was the only agency on the North Shore that had employees who speak Spanish, she added.

“Now Tahoe Women’s Services, Project M.A.N.A. and the Family Resource Center have people who know the language,” she said. “But it isn’t enough just to have someone who’s smart and who knows Spanish.”

It goes deeper than that; people need to be aware of and sensitive to the cultures of the Spanish speakers, Garcia explained.

LCU has a very specific mission – one not filled by any other service organization in the region. Its primary focus is to help Latinos integrate successfully into the North Shore community.

“There are some horror stories,” Garcia said. Some families have been taken for $30,000 by attorneys claiming they’re working on establishing legal residency for them. An individual in Truckee was charged $3,000 for notary services, and another notary public charged a family $75 to notarize one page and $150 for two pages. In one case, a family was asked for $3,500 up front, half the fee, by someone who falsely claimed he was an attorney, Garcia said.

“They just needed help filling out a paper,” she added.

Through LCU, attorney Carl Schnietz charges a minimum of $500 and no more than $1,000.

People who are legal residents in the United States can petition for citizenship of close relatives who seeking U.S. citizenship.

“There is no general amnesty right now,” Garcia said. There’s a guest-worker program that allows aliens to work for a few months. It’s something that needs to be worked on, she added.

The bill 245-I was approved but hasn’t yet gone into effect, she said.

Garcia said it has been heartening to have employers calling her asking about the bill because they want to hire or keep their Spanish-speaking employees. Schneitz will continue as legal counsel on behalf of people seeking U.S. citizenship, work permits and fair treatment from landlords.

“He works 25 to 30 hours a month,” Garcia said.

Although Schneitz provides invaluable help for his Latino clients he isn’t the only one who helps out at LCU. Jaime Ornelas is a CPA who helps many with their taxes. In addition, Maria Bernal, from the Family Resource Center, a family advocate, works at the agency on Fridays. Jenny Morgan, an AmeriCorps volunteer, is beginning her second year at LCU.

LCU also has three volunteers who help on a regular basis.

It means a lot to Garcia that both Latinos and Caucasian Americans come to the agency wanting to resolve questions of mutual benefit. It illustrates LCU is doing its mission, representing a united community, la comunidad unida.

“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished,” she said.

They are leaving their son Jason, 24, in charge of running the family business. He and his sister Valerie worked beside their father, learning the ins and outs of Prospectors Carpet Care, since they were 8 and 10 years old.

As the Garcias look forward to their move, they reflect their parents’ legacy.

Both Josie and Joe had parents bold enough to venture from their native Mexico into the United States. This time, it’s their turn.

They will be missed by many in the community as they venture into their brave new world of opportunities.


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