PSU leaders bring education message to Latino youth

CGCC hosts forum, provides local stepping stone

Jilma Meneses and Mario Mesquita

Photo by Julie Raefield-Gobbo.
Jilma Meneses and Mario Mesquita

“It was never a question that I would go to college,” said Chief Diversity Officer Jilma Meneses of Portland State University. “It was never a question that my daughters would go to college.”

Meneses shared that certitude before a crowd of young Latino students and their parents at a recent gathering held at Columbia Gorge Community College in Hood River, designed to engage and empower minority students and families to pursue higher education.

Meneses, who is Nicaraguan and was born in Mexico, visited Hood River to bring inspiration to others along with a personal invitation to “make any sacrifice necessary” to become well-educated.


Over 125 students and families listened to Meneses speak on educational opportunities for Latinos.

More than 125 teens, college students and their parents responded to the invitation.

The Dec. 5 meeting, which included a free dinner and child care, offered interested families a chance to ask direct questions about higher education, and was conducted in Spanish so that monolingual parents could feel fully involved.

Meneses and PSU Admissions Counselor Mario Mesquita responded to the enthusiastic crowd by creating a lively, inclusive conversation.

Both Meneses and Mesquita specialize in innovative outreach techniques, recognizing that traditional college efforts such as college fairs and glossy brochures often do not effectively “connect” with minority families. Including parents in the process early on is a top priority for both.

“Some parents need help to understand the value of completing high school and continuing on in school,” said Meneses. She also had a message to the teens in the audience: “There is no excuse for not completing your education.”

Prior to the evening gathering the PSU team gave the News a preview of its presentation during an afternoon interview.

“For people who have been marginalized, traditional college recruitment methods are not working,” Meneses said. “Our communities need advocates. They need to be empowered to go to school.”

She noted that many minority students are already discouraged by the time they reach high school and are still dropping out at an alarming rate as compared to their white counterparts.

“They are lacking self-confidence — they have lost their voice,” she said. “But, they can learn to be self-empowering — to make themselves visible.”

Meneses comes from a long line of inspiring and empowering women. She credits her Nicaraguan grandmother, Leonore, born in 1905, for passing along the visionary desire for, and emphasis on education: “She was a woman ahead of her time,” Meneses said, noting that her grandmother worked long hours for years to ensure her daughters could go to school.

That single-minded drive carried through to the family’s future generations.

After completing her college degree, Meneses gained extensive experience in helping under-served communities while coordinating nine Head Start programs for Hispanic migrant farm workers in central California.

“I saw so much oppression; so much poverty; I knew I had to get involved at a higher level to make an impact,” she said. She went on to complete a law degree at Lewis & Clark College in 1992.

Mesquita undertakes his role as an admissions counselor with the same fervor.

“I want these students to know that they can apply and that there are people willing to help — both to gain access to higher education and to help them make it through to completion,” he said. “I want them to learn to be self-advocates.”

The pair presented many of the help options available through Portland State University while CGCC counselors were also on hand to guide students interested in community college.

Counselors from Hood River Valley Legalization Project also offered information on immigration questions tied to schooling.

Students in attendance came from HRVHS, CGCC and several middle schools. Community volunteer Ted James helped coordinate the event.

When asked what the best result of the evening might be, Meneses said, “Even if we reach only one person today, that is one more advocate for tomorrow.”

For more information on PSU’s diversity program visit home.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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