Community-building is an ongoing process, not something you can accomplish with even the most deluxe Legos set. Sometimes it’s fostered by an event like this summer’s Porchfest, which got throngs of people out in the streets of Napa’s neighborhoods, strolling, chatting, listening to their neighbors fill the air with music. Sometimes it’s prompted by a movement like Small Business Saturday this past weekend, when residents were encouraged to patronize local small businesses and meet, perhaps for the first time, the entrepreneurs who help create Napa’s distinctive character and keep the economy moving forward.
Then there’s “Somos Napa — We Are Napa,” a nonprofit dedicated to community-building by bringing together English- and Spanish-speaking Napa residents. Whether online with its bilingual website (somosnapa.org) or in person one-on-one, the group focuses on areas of interest to all Napa Valley residents such as education, family issues, and learning how to access resources. Affiliated with Cope Family Center in Napa, Somos Napa fosters communication that’s more interactive, accessible, democratic and lively. All this is seasoned with celebration and a sense of fun.
Debbie Alter-Starr, the driving force behind Somos Napa, believes that creating an inclusive community isn’t always about grand events. “Sometimes it’s the little things that matter,” she said. “The littlest things may touch our hearts deeply or lift our burdens unexpectedly in ways that we remember for years — it’s not logical, but this is the way life is.
“Somos Napa truly believes that we all are part of what makes Napa a wonderful community. We strive through ways large and small to be inclusive, to be helpful, and to show how very much we care about each other. Especially those from the Spanish-speaking part of the Napa community tell us that the little things we do matter a lot.”
What is your purpose or mission?
Debbie Alter-Starr: “Somos Napa — We Are Napa is a grassroots organization formed to bring English- and Spanish-speakers together and to help meet families’ needs for support, information and improved quality of life. We meet people individually and in small groups to build relationships and to network. We help organize events and forums. We’re proud to say that we offer a bilingual website and newsletters.”
In brief, what’s the history of your organization?
“I began talking to people about a bilingual, grassroots network several years ago as I saw community and parent websites multiplying — but in English only, and not always inclusive of low-income households.
“With encouragement from Cope Family Center and others, I used my contacts to start an email network in 2009. Sara Avila built our first bilingual website, which launched in February 2011. Chris Templeton and Influence Internet just built our second site. Cope Family Center contributed $5,000 over the last two years to cover some of our expenses. We now have almost 1,000 subscribers. Many volunteers and groups are working with us — including Napa Valley CanDo. That’s the whole point: to see what we can do together.”
Who are the people you serve?
“We serve English- and Spanish-speaking families and interested adults who want to network in order to find information and support for their daily lives.
“Parents and adults of all ethnicities and income levels have largely the same concerns and interests. For example, parents want to know how to help their kids; adults want to help their aging parents and their other family members with challenges. Many want help to find recreation and other cultural and education opportunities they can afford. Others want to better understand our community and to learn about resources and how to access them. Service providers throughout Napa appreciate the assistance of Somos Napa in reaching parents and Spanish-speakers.”
Is there an anecdote that illustrates the work you do?
“We have organized programs in English and Spanish on a range of issues dealing with children. Among other topics, they have included dealing with anxiety and a focus on gifted learners at risk. Recently, we were a key partner in a program on parenting the most challenging children. It was wildly popular. Because of us and our networking partners (especially Napa Valley TV), all of these programs have been filmed and continue to be seen and talked about.
“During these events and later, perhaps in the supermarket, I have people come up to me, touch me on the arm and earnestly tell me how very important these programs have been in helping them help their children. Conversations sometimes follow about sensitive topics and where to get more help. This is what Somos Napa is all about — being there for each other as neighbors.”
What’s a current need or upcoming project?
“Somos Napa — We Are Napa is evolving all the time. We need funding to improve and update our website and newsletters. That this website is written in both English and Spanish is central to our mission. In the last two months, four more bilingual, Latino volunteers have become involved to help grow our Spanish content, including our co-editor for Spanish content, Ednha Landin.
“Another new project involves a community forum where individuals can ask questions and receive answers online. We want to make sure that this forum is easily accessible on our website’s home page. We’re also working with Napa Valley Arts Council, and our group plans to trade calendar items this year, which will help us grow our calendars significantly.
“Donations are most appreciated and contributions are tax-deductible via our fiscal agent, Cope Family Center. Checks should be made payable to Somos Napa.”
Neighbor2Neighbor is provided to the Register by Napa Valley CanDo. Founded in 2009, CanDo is a grassroots organization dedicated to “easing the path from intent to action.” Each week, CanDo provides a profile of a Napa Valley nonprofit or service club — what the organization does, what it needs and most of all, how an interested person can get involved. For more information on the column, contact Hilary Zunin at CanDoN2N@gmail.com. To learn more about opportunities for community service, email NVCanDo@gmail.com, call 252-7743 or visit NVCanDo.org.