Four-year-old Juanito Ortiz squirmed in a waiting-room seat Tuesday afternoon while his sister got her teeth cleaned by a Clinic Ole dentist. Unable to hold back, he punched a bench.
“My son wants to become a boxer, and I don’t know where to take him,” 25-year-old Yolanda Montes said in Spanish. “He wants to practice, but I haven’t found boxing schools in Napa.”
Thanks to a new bilingual website, Montes might be in luck. Somosnapa.org, which translates to “We are Napa”, launched this month as a potential online gathering place for low- to medium-income families. They’ll be able to trade everything from vaccination advice to kid-friendly events, anonymously.
The idea is to serve as a catch-all community board that strengthens the ties between Napa’s English and Spanish speakers, said creator Debbie Alter-Starr.
In Napa, “We’re going to be a majority Latino community,” Alter-Starr said. “We want to show how community leaders and members can work together.”
Eventually, translators will help Spanish-only and English-only speakers chat in online forums, she said. No other websites provide that service in Napa, she said.
They’ll also allow users to ask intimidating questions anonymously. Experts will stand by to give answers.
Alter-Starr got the idea from the Berkeley Parents Network, which grew from a small parent-led group in 1996 to more than 20,000 online members sharing parenting advice and events.
But Somosnapa.org will target lower income families, Alter-Starr said.
Those parents “may not have time to talk to their pediatrician,” said Joelle Gallagher, executive director of the Cope Family Center. “They may be more comfortable asking a question from their home.”
The website’s advisors include business owners, public school teachers, psychologists and pediatricians.
Something so comprehensive is “necessary” in Napa, said 21-year-old Lissette Hernandez, another mother in the Clinic Ole waiting room who had just moved to Napa from Vallejo.
“Most people suffer because they don’t know where to go,” Hernandez said. “Instead of going to the doctor, they go to a quack.”
She cares for her 2-year-old boy on top of a packed schedule as a part-time waitress at Applebee’s Restaurant and a human services major at Napa Valley College.
Somosnapa.org “would save me time,” she said. “It’s hard going to work, going to school and trying to take care of him.”
Beyond just saving time, the website directors hope it forms new friendships in Napa and responds to people’s needs. If users ask for another language, the website will add more translators.
“The point is to evolve as the community evolves,” Gallagher said. “We want it to be something by and for the community.”
With support from Napa nonprofit Cope Family Center, Somosnapa.org has nonprofit status and a $2,500 budget for website programming.
They’ll have public education help from organizations such as the Napa Valley Hispanic Network and the Napa Valley Unified School District.
Napa leaders said they’ve seen the need for a community-led website.
“Being born and raised in Napa, I see some parts of our community be not equally engaged and committed,” said Alfredo Pedroza, the website’s liaison for the Hispanic Network. Somosnapa.org “empowers folks to participate and get engaged.”
Other local bilingual websites include ParentsCAN, La Voz Bilingual Newspaper and Clinic Ole.
But Napa newcomer Hernandez said she sees the potential for Somosnapa.org to create a bridge between Napa’s Spanish- and English-speaking people.
“It eliminates that fear factor of meeting face-to-face for people who are scared of rejection,” she said. Eventually, it could start “bringing people together.”