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Virginia Garcia celebrates 40 years

Thursday reception pays tribute to health care organization's founders


Gov. Kate BrownGov. Kate Brown was one of many dignitaries in attendance Thursday in Cornelius during a reception to honor the founders of the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center.

The health care organization is celebrating 40 years. Founded in 1975, the organization is named after six-year-old Virginia Garcia, whose parents were migrant farm workers. Virginia died after a cut on her foot went untreated, due to economic and communication barriers.

After her death, a handful of founders, determined to prevent a similar tragedy, went to work to create a health care clinic where low-income migrant workers could get health care.

A short time later, a tiny clinic opened in what was a three-car garage in Cornelius.

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center founders and their families gather for a group photo Thursday during a reception in their honor.Greg Mecklem, who volunteered as a doctor in the clinic, recalled the clinic had walls that didn’t reach the ceiling. “We had to collect health history in a whisper” to maintain patient confidentiality, he recalled.

By 1985, Virginia Garcia was serving around 6,000 patients a year.

Forty years on, the organization expects to serve about 40,000 patients this year. There are now 16 clinics in two counties, including six school-based health centers — the first opened in Tigard in 2008 and the most recent last year in Tualatin.

Virginia Garcia’s Cornelius Wellness Center opened in 2012, not far from the site of the original clinic. The center includes a commercial teaching kitchen, group exercise spaces, public greenways and a community garden. The facility offers medical, dental and vision care.

Founder Jim Zaleski recalled going to migrant camps and farm fields as a Vista volunteer in 1968. “We were a group of rough and ready community organizers,” he said. “We had to make a noise.”

In the summer of 1975, he said, after Virginia Garcia’s death, "a confluence of good things came out of a tragedy. Virginia Garcia (Memorial Health Center) made it because it has heart.”

As a part of National Health Center Week, the Wellness Center in Cornelius, 1151 N. Adair St., will hold a health and resource fair on Friday, Aug. 14, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Free health, dental and vision screenings will be offered and the fair is open to the public.


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