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Faith in the Valley leader Carmen Ojeda

Leader Profile: Carmen Ojeda

A few years ago, Faith in the Valley leader Carmen Ojeda was taking an ESL class in her community of Dos Palos in Merced County when some classmates began sharing their concerns around language and involvement barriers in their children’s schools.

Carmen knew what it was like to feel that way because, as an an immigrant from Mexico, she, too, had some barriers she had to overcome to get her voice heard.

Carmen also knew she could help those parents because of what her experience with Faith in the Valley had taught her: that they could make the changes they wanted to see.

So during the pandemic, Carmen put her faith into action and organized a small group of five mothers who began to meet and learn about the educational system.

“I found that a lot of these moms really wanted to get involved, but they didn’t know a lot about the school system”, Carmen said. “They didn’t know where to go and felt stuck with their questions.”

Eventually, the grassroots group knew they could become stronger with a little help from some more experienced organizers, so Carmen, who has worked with us since 2017 on immigration justice and healthcare campaigns, called on Faith in the Valley for leadership development training.

The more they learned, the more empowered the group became.

The mothers began to see themselves as leaders.

And Carmen knew something special was happening in her community.

“When I came to this country, I also felt fearful. People in my community feel this way too,” she said.

But after working with Faith in the Valley on a recent healthcare campaign and witnessing the room overflow with supporters at a public action, she realized, “there are many people who support us. I’m supported. I belong. I feel like I’m part of a family.”

Now, their group, known as Padres Guardianes Empoderados Unidos, has grown to 18 members, including other parents, concerned community members and school employees. Together, they are taking on structural and systemic obstacles and problems in their local district, such as increasing parental involvement, school safety, nutrition, student wellness, school accountability and broadening scholarship opportunities.

They are excited, motivated and inspired to take action.

We celebrate Carmen and leaders like her, who are working to create a Central Valley where grassroots communities of color are empowered and have a say over matters that affect their everyday lives.

To learn more about the work in Merced County, contact Blanca Ojeda at [email protected]. Or, join our mailing list.

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