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Swinging open the doors

Virginia Garcias Cornelius Wellness Center gets red carpet treatment


by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Kenneth W. Eakland, Associate Dean for Clinical Programs at the Pacific University College of Optometry, shows Virginia Garcia CEO Gil Munoz new optometry equipment at the vision center in the new Cornelius Wellness Center. Downtown Cornelius hosted a crowd of community members, future patients, supporters, volunteers and employees at the Virginia Garcia Cornelius Community Wellness Center grand opening Friday.

The occasion was a momentous one. A little more than two years after recieving a $12 million federal grant, the $13.7 million Cornelius Wellness Center was complete and open for public viewing.

The beaming possibility represented by the celebration shined through the drizzle and spotlighted the opportunities the center holds for the future of Cornelius and its residents as a place where better health starts, where citizens can gather and get to know each other, and as a glimpse of the progression the city hopes to see more of in the future.

A gaggle of speakers, including U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Beaverton), Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin, Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, Pacific University’s Dean of Optometry Jennifer Smythe and Gil Muñoz, CEO of Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, along with others launched the ribbon cutting ceremony, summarizing the missions of the center and the potential it brings to the community.

The center not only offers medical care, but also fitness classes, cooking and shopping classes, as well as a gardening space where citizens can learn to grow their own food, all in an effort to promote a healthy lifestyle. Focused on holistic and preventative medicine, it’s designed to provide patients with a full spectrum of options to be and stay healthy.

“By expanding its focus to prevention and coordinated care, Virginia Garcia will ensure the health of families from around the region while reducing costs to patients and taxpayers,” Bonamici said.

Dalin, also excited about the positive economic impact of the center, mentioned not only the reduced cost of care and expanded services, but also the new jobs available at the facility.

Personal impact

Cora Talavera has worked for the Virginia Garcia Foundation for 11 years. Born in Texas, she came to Oregon in the 1970s to pick strawberries. But, suffering from injuries she sustained in a car accident, she could no longer handle the physical labor.

As the switchboard operator at Virginia Garcia, Talavera knows many callers not by face, but by voice. “It was always very hard to say, ‘No, we aren’t taking new patients.’ I always wished we could do more. Now we can,” she said. Answering questions and welcoming newcomers to the center at the grand opening, Talavera sees her job as a chance to help others get the care they deserve.

“I wouldn’t trade my job for anything,” Talavera said. “I feel like if I miss a day, I am not helping the sick people.”

Virginia Garcia relies on the compassion and dedication of employees like Talavera.

According to Muñoz, the medical nonprofit will be adding more staff and developing an even stronger program as they continue to welcome new patients.

Kristen Burgher, a family medicine practitioner at the new wellness center, worked and learned at the original Cornelius Virginia Garcia clinic as a medical student and jumped at the opportunity to come back to the nonprofit, named after a young girl who died from infection in 1975 because of economic and language barriers at Portland area hospitals.

“Because of the mission of the organization — her tragic death was turned into something beautiful. I am excited about how much more we’ll be able to offer our patients, and I’m excited to see where the community takes this,” Burgher said.

Alejandro Tecum of Adelante Mujeres is already helping take preventative health to a new level. Adelante Mujeres partnered with Virginia Garcia to direct the center’s community garden, designed to teach people how to grow healthy food in a small space.

Starting this fall, Tecum will build up the garden boxes with compost and rich soil, and plant kale, cabbage and other colder weather crops.

“It’s an opportunity for people to get outside and grow things,” Tecum said. “After they practice, hopefully it will create the desire and the will for people to grow.”

Tecum will focus on helping families get their own plot and inspire the love of growing in children, which will teach them where healthy food comes from. “When kids don’t know about gardening, they think it comes from the WinCo or Walmart,” he said.

As he gardens and teaches others, Tecum will work to conserve water, which is consistent with the LEED silver certification of the building.

Community partnerships like this “embrace the vision of wellness and extend beyond medical attention,” Muñoz said.

“Everybody has the heart and the will,” Dalin said. “This is what downtown Cornelius could look like.”



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