Southern Willamette Valley

Community Voices: Ashley Espinoza, OCF Southern Willamette Valley Leadership Council Member

Ashley Espinoza is Sector Strategy Director for Lane Workforce Partnership, and advocate and OCF Leadership Council member—one of more than 1,600 OCF volunteers across the state. We connected with Ashley about her professional and volunteer roles, her service to the Latinx community and the impact of wildfires and COVID-19.

OCF: So how are you doing in these interesting times?

It has been a rollercoaster since March honestly. I have two school-aged boys, one thirteen and the other nine. Navigating distance learning, summertime and now ramping up again for the new school year all while working from home and being an identified leader of your community hasn’t been easy to balance. My husband works as a Union Carpenter and hasn’t stopped working outside of the home, which has also been very stressful but we as a family have leaned into our faith and feel strong and united. Also, my Mom has helped so much during the summer… We are forever grateful!

As for my community work, COVID-19 has highlighted so many of our weaknesses as a community and society. We have been called to come together and answer the call differently like never before. It is presenting an opportunity for us to reimagine how we show up for one another and navigate through complicated challenges together.

Our most recent wildfire disaster has really tested our resilience as individuals, as neighbors and as a community. Although we know that the devastation is dire and hundreds of families are now displaced, as if navigating our current circumstances wasn’t enough? My sincerest condolences to those that have lost loved ones, for the families that have lost everything, and for our beautiful state that will never look the same in our lifetime. It is almost too much for me to wrap my brain around actually, but I think it’ll be important during this time and into recovery that we all lead with kindness and empathy. That we ramp up grace for one another and take care of each other with as little or as much we can. One of the most beautiful acts of unity and care was when I saw that a team of Mexican firefighters came to Oregon to help with the fires. It just shows that at the end of the day we will step up and help each other when we most need it. Witnessing the tremendous outpour of love and support from so many sources this far truly gives me hope for our future and makes me so proud to be an Oregonian.

OCF: You spend so much of your time serving your community. Can you tell us about the organizations you work with?

I feel extremely fortunate that two years ago I was hired as the Sector Strategy Director of our local Workforce Investment Board, Lane Workforce Partnership. Our role is to catalyze, convene, capacity build and be a community voice to empower job seekers to meet the current and future workforce needs of employers in Lane County. I work closely with employers, labor groups, government, high schools, higher ed, community- based organizations, and economic development. I serve on the Boards of Food for Lane County, Grupo Latino Accion Directa, City of Eugene’s Citizens Advisory Board, and Lane County’s Poverty and Homelessness Board. I also co-founded and coordinate Latino Professionals Connect.

OCF: What motivated you to do this kind of work?

The dream of economic mobility and prosperity for all. I believe that if we better align and communicate resources, educational opportunities and services, people (youth and beyond) can then truly participate and contribute in the success and health of our community collectively. I strive to make participation accessible so that those we serve are active members of the creation and implementation of set initiatives.

OCF: Connection is such a vital part of your work with Latino Professionals Connect, how have you found ways for your community to stay connected during this time?

Before Covid, we were completely booked with hosts until 2021, but like the rest of the world we had to move our monthly events to a virtual platform, which in March was very foreign to many. We pivoted quickly and have had some great events despite having to rethink our programming. We here in Lane County don’t have many chances to network with other people that look like us or come from similar background and experiences, however going virtual gave us the opportunity to showcase and connect with folks from across the state doing amazing work which before Covid-19 we weren’t doing. We’ve had presentations from PCUN, Oregon Latinx Leadership Network, Rural Development Initiatives and many more.

OCF: What are you working on now?

I am working to further connect and align efforts and resources so that we are tapping into the full capacity and potential of our community. I’ve been partnering with many different organizations and institutions to help take a deep dive into their organizational structures and make sure that they are positioned to meet their goals and our hopes for our community as a whole.

OCF: You also serve on the Oregon Commission of Hispanic Affairs. How did you get involved?

I was invited to apply by my friend and who I consider a mentor, Chair, Linda Castillo. She and I participated in Latino Networks Unid@s program, Cohort 6 and she reached out to me to gauge my interest since there hadn’t been a commissioner from Lane County in over 10 years. She knew that my work and passion aligned perfectly with the vision and mission of the commission and I am so happy she thought of me.

OCF: What do you want us to know about your work there?

One of our key functions is to serve as policy advisors to Oregon state policy makers and leaders. Our vision is to empower and support Latino a/x through our work and connections as we seek equity for Latino’s in jobs, economy, education, health, safety, family stability, environment and civic engagement. We also work in partnership on research and policy analysis of longstanding issues and barriers to success within the Latino/a/x community statewide. A mental health report will be coming out in a few months that my fellow commissioners spearheaded and it is comprehensive and very well put together. We look forward to share it widely!

OCF: Is there anything else you’d like to share about the work you do serving your community?

Last time I took inventory I serve on 12 boards, committees, and commissions which seems like a lot and it is, but they all connect in some way. By being involved at that capacity, it allows me to use each work session to inform one another and help identify common themes to further the goal of providing opportunity to not just survive but thrive here in Oregon.

Shifting gears, what’s your view of how Oregon—its people and institutions--is responding to COVID, especially as it impacts your community?

COVID-19 disproportionately affected our BIPOC communities and we felt the lack of support and infrastructure from the state level down to our local communities. Information wasn’t being disseminated in any language other than English and resources were first come first serve which was keeping those with the greatest need and limited resources out. What’s been beautiful and inspiring to see is how quickly so many people and institutions are making bold and intentional adjustments to make sure those that have historically been left out are now being considered and included. They are willing to take a look at themselves to address the root cause of the inequities.

OCF: How did you get involved with OCF?

About 4 years ago I was encouraged to serve on the leadership council by Roberto Franco, past Director of the Latino Partnership program. He had come to Lane County to learn more about the networks and initiatives happening in our region and that is when I met him and learned of OCF. He and I discussed my hopes for the community and specifically the Latino/a/x community and the rest is history.

OCF: Tell us a bit about your role as a Leadership Council member.

Our role as council members is to help evaluate grant proposals, share our knowledge of our community and bring community awareness of opportunities. Due to the nature of my work and the networks I have built over the years, I feel like I provide a unique contribution to the council and it has been so rewarding.

OCF: What do you enjoy most about this role?

There is not another Latino/a/x serving on the South Willamette Valley Leadership Council. I feel it is important to share my lived experience even though it won’t necessarily reflect the entire communities experience. I can help give insight into what people are actually experiencing and offer the cultural awareness that these groups a lot of the time lack. I also provide access to my connections and network to bring more awareness and opportunities for OCF, their partners, and those that they serve.

OCF: Have you learned anything in this role that surprised you?

I didn’t realize that OCF plays such an important and lead role in catalyzing efforts that align with their giving to make sure that those investments are successful and fully supported.

OCF: Can you think of any OCF responses to community needs that stand out?

I really love the Conexiones Summit hosted every other year that brings together Latinos and partners in education, nonprofits, business and government working together to improve the lives of Latino Oregonians convened by the Latino Partnership Program. There is not another conference like this in Oregon. The importance of offering such a space is overlooked and undervalued but after participating and seeing the great connections and work done over the two-day summit was truly inspiring.

OCF: National Hispanic Heritage Month takes place from September 15-October 15. How does this carry meaning for you?

It is a time to celebrate and share our contributions, history, and culture that we offer and bring to this nation, state, and our communities. In the work that I do we can easily focus more heavily on our deficiencies as a community, but Hispanic Heritage month gives us the platform to highlight our value, talents, potential, and worth! As a state, our demographics are changing and we as a community need to feel proud and confident of who we are.

OCF: Is there anything you would like donors and prospective donors to know?

Your generosity and investment to your state and its people is admirable. Through OCF and their many partnerships we are stewarding resources to scale and elevate those investments to reach their full potential. The world is changing rapidly and it is important that we all are continuously learning and evolving to best serve our state into the future. I’m always so impressed by all the staff and volunteers at OCF and their care and commitment to our state and its prosperity. We couldn’t do it without your support- so thank you!

OCF: What else haven’t we asked that we should have?

I am a mother of two beautiful brown boys and my husband is an emerging leader in his role as a union carpenter that also loves this state as much as I do. We are committed as a family to be engaged and encourage those that we come across to be open to discover their passion in community service and philanthropy. It is important to us that everyone no matter where they currently find themselves believe in their gifts and potential they embody. We know how important it is to be engaged and involved in our community and want to mentor that for others because we all have the power to make a difference.