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Bonamici, Kitzhaber help open Juniper Gardens' second phase

Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (second and third from left) help Bienestar Executive Director Karen Shawcross (far right) and several children cut the ribbon opening Juniper Gardens II, a Forest Grove affordable-housing community for farmworkers in Washington County.Alejandro Orteja and his family live in the Montebello Apartments in Hillsboro's downtown core, close to shopping, schools and the MAX line.

The farmworker-turned-mechanic, who arrived in Oregon from Mexico in 2001, was all smiles Thursday during the grand opening of a similar project operated by the affordable-housing nonprofit Bienestar on Juniper Street in Forest Grove.

"I like it for the purpose," Orteja, a father of five, said of Juniper Gardens II, a colorful campus of gold and barn-red flats and townhomes that will welcome its first residents Saturday. "This is for the farmworkers."

Orteja was one of more than 100 Bienestar staffers, affordable-housing advocates, Juniper Gardens employees and local, state and national dignitaries who attended an invitation-only celebration to officially open the second phase of the project on a rainy fall afternoon.

Its one- and two-story units will house 22 farmworker families, piggybacking on the 24 units contained in Phase I, which opened last December, said Laura Conroy, a Bienestar board member.

"It's so nice to have a place that's so well integrated into such a beautiful neighborhood," said Conroy of the project, tucked off a tree-lined boulevard in the northeast corner of town.

Bienestar's signature community-building program will bring year-round farmworkers and other low-income residents in Washington County amenities and opportunities they might not otherwise get — including citizenship and computer classes for adults and math and reading literacy classes for children enrolled in Bienestar's MpowR program.

The campus features two playgrounds for children and a large community room and kitchen, where cooking lessons will take place.

Bienestar Executive Director Karen Shawcross introduced Gov. John Kitzhaber, who came in place of his fianceé, Cylvia Hayes, to boost the opening-day ceremony.

Despite the recent upturn after the long economic recession, many Latinos in the county "still face double-digit unemployment," Kitzhaber said. "That's why I'm so pleased to be here supporting this project that lifts all of us up.

"We're fighting for the notion that we're all in this together."

Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici told the crowd she learned years ago — when she worked as a paralegal for Legal Aid Services of Oregon — that "people don't struggle by choice" and that projects like Juniper Gardens "create a network that gives residents the tools to succeed."

Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax praised the housing community as evidence of what "great partnerships can do" and said the "journey to equality is a continuing one."

The name Bienestar, meaning "well being," is fitting, Truax added. "There's a real sense of community contribution here."

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