Two Hispanic women in the Monument Corridor are making an impact in their community, and doing it one incremental, determined step at a time.
They both began their civic action with scant resources of their own, yet motivated by a pride for the new country they called home, and a commitment to improve the lot in life for those who share their cultural heritage.
Lorena Cruz, then 29, and Silvia Barajas, then 14, arrived in Concord unable to speak English, also leaving family and familiarity behind in Mexico.
Their outreach will be recognized at the first Monument Community Awards Breakfast on Thursday, Sept. 11. Also honored will be retired U.S. Army General and former Concord Mayor Dan Helix, who will receive the Michael Chavez Leadership Award for his legacy of civic leadership, and the Hofmann Family Foundation for its support of the Community Youth Center, that has provided sports and academic programs for children and teens in the Monument Community since 1981.
Cruz and Barajas have kept children and their own family-oriented focused approach as a cornerstone for their respective outreach; both draw inspiration from their own lineage of strong women.
"We see it in our mothers and grandmothers. We just inherit it," says Barajas, whose family owns Los Rancheros Supermarket and Taqueria. "We're capable; motivated by the 'it's the right thing to do.'"
They have passed that to the next generation. Barajas' 16-year-old daughter Alondra is tutoring fourth-graders at the Monument Crisis Center.
Barajas has a family legacy of determinism, with her current restaurant and market stemming from her parents once operating a food truck 25 years ago, and a tug to come to the United States for a "better place to raise (their six) children."
"We've been blessed with health, love and abundance," she says. "We're growing because we're sharing with people who have less than us."
"The better life is through education," adds Cruz. "I'd like to see my kids be better citizens than me."
Cruz' confidence in her ability to get involved and make an impact is burgeoned by her extended family of local women.
"They believe in me, and I say, 'yes, I can do it," she says, noting how face-to-face interaction with residents in the Monument Corridor has inspired her activism in such areas as conducting lead poisoning assessments; and leading small groups through the former Monument Community Partnership, serving on its board of directors.
Cruz helped start the Cambridge Walking Club and taught Zumba in the Cambridge Park -- undaunted by those who once congregated there, smoking marijuana -- and was thereby instrumental in changing the park's atmosphere.
"Maybe if I can't change where I live, I can change the place I live," she says.
Cruz' efforts are typically grass roots; no longer reluctant to knock on doors and facilitate small listening groups to offer support and to glean the community's needs -- and to then help to facilitate that.
She has brought health practitioners from La Clinica to her apartment complex, offering information about breast and prostate cancer, as part of a group that congregates to support each other's weight loss.
She describes her "solution-based approach," regarding herself as a liaison between the residents and the social services that are available to them.
Cruz is one of nine residents who are each facilitating one of five pilot mental health groups through Monument Impact, offering a supportive ear and stress-reduction techniques.
Meanwhile, Barajas helps coordinate the resource-rich annual Dia Del Nino (Day of the Child) event for area families.
And both Barajas and Cruz are instructors with Monument Impact's Healthy Matters classes -- as part of its Healthy Eating and Active Living Program -- teaching families how to prepare nutritious meals for under $10.
The two are motivated by a shared conviction of promoting the rich cultural diversity of the area.
"We want to change the perception of the Monument," says Barajas, who is helping coordinate the inaugural A Taste of Monument event in mid-October.
Her restaurant and market have been venues for Cinco de Mayo celebrations, featuring live music and traditional dance and food -- and has morphed into "a little Mexico" each year for Mexican Independence Day.
"There's a necessity inside of me to continue my culture, our traditions. I don't want them to fade away," she says. "I'm in love with both of my cultures."
What: Monument Community Awards Breakfast
When: 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. Sept. 11
Where: Concord Hilton, 1970 Diamond Blvd., Concord
Cost $45; available online
Information: Call 925-682-8428, ex. 2140, or visit www.MonumentImpact.org