by Amanda Ong
Villa Comunitaria (VC) started in 2005 as the South Park Information and Resource Center. Now sixteen years old, the organization — in 2021 alone — delivered $500,000 in rental assistance funds, 500 vaccines to clients, 6,480 pounds of produce from the Salsa de la Vida program, and helped clients complete thirty-five citizenship pre-applications. They have also hosted workshops for community members to participate and engage in life-skills and other topics.
Executive Director Analia Bertoni remembers coming to VC over a decade and a half ago first as a client. “I came to Seattle as an immigrant in 2001 because of one of the many economic crises in Argentina,” Bertoni told the South Seattle Emerald in an interview. “My family of four came to work and provide a better life for our children who were 14 and 11 … I showed up as a client, eager to connect with other people who spoke Spanish.”
Since then, she has been with VC as a client, program participant, staff, board member, and eventually became the executive director in 2016. Bertoni says at the time, VC had a part-time staff of one, offering a walk-in office for neighbors. With the staff’s help and guidance, Bertoni learned of and received a Neighborhood Matching Fund grant, which she used to create a college conference for Latino families and students.
Now, VC has a team of 19 full-time and part-time staff. It supports five ongoing programs including systems navigation & human services, education & leadership development, healthy community, food access & economic development, and citizenship & community engagement.
Bertoni knows from experience that organizations like VC are needed to channel city and county resources to communities who may not be able to access these funds otherwise. Not only does the organization play an instrumental role in supporting community members, but also provides the social and cultural space to learn with the community and gain the confidence to advance in life.
VC is a community-based and women-led organization and the name itself means “Community Town.” “[We] serve mostly immigrant Latinx families, but we don’t turn down anybody in need, regardless of language or cultural background. Participants come from different countries with the hopes to advance their lives,” Bertoni said.
“Our progress in programs and services is a sample of what we can do to succeed,” Bertoni said. And their progress has been recognized. In December of 2021, VC received $40,000 from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods and $149,926 from the Department of Early Learning to help increase equitable birth and kindergarten readiness outcomes for young families. This comes at a time when Latinos are the fastest growing population in Washington state with the population increasing by almost 2% in King County in the last 10 years. South Seattle has a proportionally larger Latino population, at 30% compared to just below 11% in Seattle overall.
With the grants, VC plans to support the initial stages of the Family Early Learning Cooperative, a cooperative model that will give parents of prenatal to three-year-olds an opportunity to prepare their children for a lifetime of learning while also providing families with much needed childcare. Since the onset of the pandemic, the childcare crisis has deepend, with the costs of childcare soaring, while the median income of the Latino community in Seattle is 33% less than that of the white population.
“Over the past decade the community has expressed a need for childcare and early learning opportunities for moms with small children,” Bertoni said. “In 2022, after much planning and preparation, we will be able to take the first significant step of registering the first 10 children and parents in fulfilling that need. In the long term, as we advance with our program, we would like to offer a childcare facility to serve all ages from prenatal to five-years-old.”
VC is also committed to helping families access education at all ages. The organization has partnered with North Seattle College to support the registration of the co-op and engaging parents in opportunities to earn college credits in Spanish. This will help give them the skills and resources they need to move towards a career.
Bertoni says that VC is especially excited to launch the Early Learning Co-op in the South End. She herself received resources from VC to support her children’s education when she moved to South Park over 20 years ago. The Family Early Learning Cooperative marks a huge stride in furthering that work. The next step for VC is to find physical spaces. “We are in need of support for a sustainable, stable space for social, cultural and economic development,” Bertoni said, adding that they are looking for a community space in South Park.
Villa Comunitaria supports a waiting list of 15 families in need of rent, utilities, or health bills for a total of $15,000. You can reach out to help aid their programs through their website and the donation button.
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured Image: Courtesy of Villa Comunitaria.
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