By: Melisa Patrino
My name is Melissa and I am the Executive Director of Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center. Puertas Abiertas works hand in hand with the Latino community to inspire and achieve healthy living, self-sufficiency, and opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. We assist immigrants who have recently arrived as well as those that have been here for decades.
Working for Puertas Abiertas is really personal for me. I am an immigrant myself. I fully understand what it feels like to not be able to speak the language, to leave everything you know behind, and to start all over. Immigrants come to the U.S. for various reasons; economic stability, family reunification, and in my family’s case, we left El Salvador due to war. A pervasive economic inequality prompted the war, which lasted 12 years and left 80,000 people dead, 8,000 disappeared, and created 500,000 refugees, who mostly fled to the U.S.
In high school, I really started questioning the war in El Salvador and I became involved. I joined programs like Upward Bound and Summer Search. These programs really helped open my eyes to the world outside of Napa. I developed long lasting relationships and mentorships through them. I can say with confidence that without these mentors, I would not be where I am today.
I worked for Congressman Thompson for seven years as a constituent representative working mostly on immigration case work and as a field representative. Immigration casework was often difficult, there were many times where I had to tell families there were no options for them but to remain undocumented. My mom and I were fortunate to come here legally, but many don’t have that option, and the desperation to flee poverty or war often outweighs the risk of crossing border. Due to the proximity to the Congressman, I could tell him all these stories, which I felt was really important for mi gente to have a seat at the table.
My experiences helping the community through Congressman Thompson’s office allowed me to see an amazing side of Napa that I had neglected to see before, we are an incredibly giving county, yes, we have our problems, but there are so many instances where I’ve been astounded by the generosity of people who live here.
There is still a lot to do in terms of decreasing the educational and income gap in Napa. Puertas Abiertas serves low-income Latino families who face tremendous barriers to success. Barriers include literacy, immigration status, isolation and lack of financial literacy/resources. Our client database contains over 1,500 families, 32% of those served last year, had an annual income of less than $20,000. A total of 18% of all clients have less than an elementary school education, and 23% have less than a middle school education, and 16% have obtained a high school degree or higher.
Puertas Abiertas offers life skills, educational programs and advocacy services to support personal growth and family stability. We are often on the forefront of issues pertaining to our community, which enables us to prepare services and programs to address the concerns.
Being the Executive Director of Puertas Abiertas is empowering and I take my responsibility very seriously. I want to create a community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, not just survive.
Join me in celebrating our 10 Year Anniversary on April 25th, in Napa! For more information please visit our website at www.puertasabiertasnapa.org