Para los Niños is celebrating almost twenty years in Burien. Started by a group of Latina mothers to help other Latino families struggling to navigate the Highline Public Schools system, the nonprofit organization has grown and expanded, and now offers youth programs, public health services, civic engagement programs, and adult learning.
In 2019, the City of Burien had to make the very difficult decision to demolish the Burien Community Center Annex building, which left Para los Niños, who rented space in the building, in need of a new home. Cyndi Upthegrove connected Para los Ninos with Jan Noorda, a local architect, and with the aid of Keller Williams’ Rodolfo Hernández, they found a new space in downtown Burien that was once home to an accounting firm They moved in June 2020, hosting a grand opening a couple of months later, inviting members of the community to view the space.
The new space allows all staff members to have their own offices and includes a room that can host up to 30 people. This is where they host their Play and Learn program, computer classes for adults, a youth program, and small community events.
They are excited about a new partnership with Glacier Middle School where they will continue the Aprendamos Juntos program serving infants and children in grades kindergarten through 8th grade. This program was previously held at Hilltop Elementary School. They offer simultaneous classes for parents and caregivers who are English language learners.
Virginia Herrera was hired in 2019 to serve as the executive director for Para los Niños, taking over from Lupita Torrez, who founded the organization with another four Latino families. She entered the leadership role during a pivotal time in the organization’s history, helping the organization navigate the move to the new space and then establishing a leadership role in bringing resources and help to her community in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When asked how the new space was working for them, Herrera said that it makes them more visible, which helps increase their reach and support for the organization.
“It’s a place for the community to gather,” said Herrera. “The assets that our community brings—culture, resilience, learning, and fun—are visible in the new space.”
Three murals adorn the outside of the building, painted by Latino artists Amaranta Sandys and Raquel Garcia Martinez as well as one painted by rcxr (Rafa Díaz). The murals celebrate Latino culture and offer an inspiring vision for the youth that use their programs. One mural depicts four Latina youths using their knowledge to create technology that will help the community address important problems. It was inspired by a team of young Latinas who participated in the European Girls Olympiad in Informatics (EGOI), the first international programming competition for girls. [link to public art map]. A mural painted by local high school students called “Progreso” greets visitors when they walk into the lobby.
“We want to show our youth and the Burien community the possibility that exists within our culture,” said Herrera.
Since Para los Niños moved into their new space, they have hosted events outside their building and continued running their programs, navigating the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. They also stepped up to meet the needs in their community. In partnership with Seattle & King County – Public Health and the City of Burien, they operate a vaccine clinic that has vaccinated almost 1,000 people. They’ve helped more than 1,000 people get vaccination appointments.
“Our vaccine clinics offer music, food, toys for the children, and gift cards for the families,” said Herrera on why they have been successful at getting a high number of people vaccinated.
They also recently hired a family resource coordinator to help people who speak limited English connect with services, programs, and resources. Starting in 2021, they began a pilot promotora de salud (health care outreach worker) program. The new program will train six people to conduct health care outreach in Spanish.
Para los Niños has thrived because they adapt to changing community needs.
“We take a very organic approach to our community work,” said Herrera. “We listen to the needs of the community and we try to make our programs match those needs.”
About Para los Niños
Para los Niños is a grassroots community organization founded by members of the community it serves—the growing immigrant, Spanish and other Latin American Native language-speaking population in South King County.
Para los Niños receives funding from the City of Burien’s Human Services Fund. They also work with the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department to offer youth programs. 4Culture provided funding for the murals mentioned in this story.