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Community leadership group hosts fiesta July 31 in Cornelius

COURTESY PHOTO - This year's Ford Institute Leadership cohort includes a diverse group of residents from western Washington County.When a leadership training program brought 30 disparate Washington County residents together to identify and achieve a challenging common goal that would benefit their larger community, they decided to throw a party.

Backed by the Ford Institute Leadership Program sponsored by the Ford Family Foundation based in Roseburg, local community members were invited or nominated to be part of the group, and those who chose to participate committed to four weekend trainings over four months between January and April.

The group’s end goal was to create a project that brings the community together.

Debby Roth, a member of the leadership cohort who works for the city of Cornelius, proposed the idea of organizing an event to precede a concert in the city’s Summer Concert Series, which takes place at Harleman Park.

“Fiesta in the Park” is the result of the months of hard work put in by dedicated citizens. The theme for the all-ages, multicultural event is “We are Washington County/Somos Washington County.”

Leadership members suggested the theme to incorporate the idea that, although there are many separate communities in the area, they are also part of a larger community that incorporates the western end of the county.

The fiesta is set to take place from 3 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 31. A concert by local group Fadedblue, who played at Forest Grove’s July 4 celebration starts at 6 p.m. for the city’s summer concert series.

In line with the theme of the event, the food vendors that are attending are all local — La Surianita, Audaddy’s, Sugar Momma’s Bake Shop, Reyna Amaro and a vendor offering paleterias (a frozen treat) will be at the fiesta to please the palates of eventgoers.

They all have strong connections to the communities of western Washington County and have either storefront locations or sell their wares regularly at local farmers’ markets.

There will also be many different activities, as well as exhibits and demonstrations.

The All Together Now music and literacy van will have activities for all ages, and the party will also feature origami, face painting, henna tattoos, Love Rocks, garden-related activities, traditional Aztec dancing and more. Other entertainment is in the process of being finalized, but Taiko drumming has been confirmed part of a mixed martial arts presentation.

The fiesta is free and open for the public to attend.

Vital rural communities

Since 2003, the Ford Institute Leadership Program has engaged more than 6,000 community-builders from 88 rural hubs throughout Oregon and Siskiyou County in California.

The program is based on the belief that vital rural communities develop from a broad base of knowledgeable, skilled and motivated leaders and productive collaborations among organizations.

Coming from different towns, different ethnicities and cultures, different COURTESY PHOTO - Members of this year's Ford  Institute Leadership group work together to raise a pole off the ground. The exercise symbolizes the programs ultimate lesson -- to learn to work in unison to realize a common goal.generations and economic classes and a range of vocations, the diversity in this year’s Washington County group created unique opportunities to cross generally accepted boundaries and find common ground that allowed them to feel empowered to make things happen by working together.

“We’ve been practicing leadership skills through the project itself — conceiving, developing and planning the event,” said Karen Torry, who worked on recruitment. “We started from scratch with the only guidelines being that our project had to be an event and had to take place within 90 days of the completion of the program.”

“We are one of the fastest-growing, diverse counties and we consider that a strength,” said Erika Lopez, one of the citizens working on the project. “Forest Grove, Cornelius and Hillsboro are not only geographically close but also share resources and amenities among our residents. The best parts were the connections and relationships we made going through this process and I hope we can replicate that in our community.”

“We’ve worked in smaller groups to sweat the small stuff, from facilities and safety on the site to lining up volunteers and sharing the word with the community,” said Jennifer Sneed, an outreach and education program manager at the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District.

All decisions about the fiesta were made by the leadership class through consultation and consensus.

“Our goal is to offer a free, fun event that offers great food, entertainment and activities for all ages in celebration of the people and cultures of western Washington County,” said Torry.

The group’s training meetings included direct instruction on all aspects of leadership, from understanding one’s own personality type to working with others to the principles of community-based change, building social capital and group decision-making.

“They’ve (Ford Institute) been working with our community for the past five years,” said Terry O’Day, an art professor at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

There have been two previous cohorts, one in 2012 and another in 2014.

The first cohort, which included Forest Grove Mayor Peter Truax and City Councilor Victoria Lowe, renovated the Community Learning Center in Forest Grove. The group refurbished the basketball court, added new furniture and books to the reading room and hired local artist Eduardo Tecum to paint a mural with students at the center.

The second cohort put together the Sundial project at Forest Grove’s Thatcher Park.

Future community connections

There aren’t any other events currently being planned, but that doesn’t mean the leadership group’s contributions to community won’t continue.

“The purpose of the Ford training is to help community leaders grow up from the grassroots, to help them develop leadership skills that they can apply in a variety of ways to improve their communities,” said Torry. “Ford cohorts from previous years in other communities have continued to meet and work on projects or issues together — I know many of us hope to maintain our relationships and work together again in some way in the future.”

“Connections and friendships have been made within the group and larger community that are typically too rare in our society today,” said Mitch Taylor, who works on the publicity committee for the project. “Collectively, the leadership program has provided a foundation for additional community-building, which can convert strangers into neighbors and knit them together with understanding, friendship and a multitude of additional common goals.”