TILLAMOOK, Ore. – On a recent Saturday night, families gathered to celebrate the culmination of Juntos Afuera, a unique summer camp experience for Latino youth on the Oregon Coast.
Oregon State University Extension Service, through its Juntos program, hosted the event, which included music, food, and an option for COVID-19 vaccinations. By the end of the evening, nine people were vaccinated and many more ate tacos and burritos, listened to Peruvian folk music, and took home a goodie bag with face coverings, pens and a note pad, and flyers from Extension community partners.
Those getting the shot also received a water bottle and T-shirt designed by the students who participated in Juntos Afuera.
“We wanted to sit down and have a meal together, but when COVID presented new risks, the team had to pivot quickly,” said Natalie Macias, an education program assistant in the Extension Open Campus program. “The night could not have run as efficiently without the help of multiple partners throughout Tillamook and Lincoln County.”
Juntos Afuera was a new, 10-week summer camp that introduced Latino students to outdoor recreational activities and taught them about Latin American cultures. The camp drew 12 students from the region who hiked, kayaked and went bird-watching. They learned that the outdoors is an inclusive place for them, Macias said.
“We showed them there is space for Latinx individuals in the outdoors,” Macias said. “We wanted them to see it’s not just a non-Latino dominated community. “One of the things I would ask them is, ‘Do you see yourself in this career path?’ My goal is to show students as many career paths during their time in Juntos.”
The students found out about the camp through Juntos, an OSU Extension program that provides Spanish-speaking students and their families with the knowledge and resources to empower them to pursue higher education together. Crystal Hernandez, who participated in Juntos in Tillamook and was an OSU Extension intern this summer, directed projects ranging from teaching arts and crafts to a class on first aid.
“During Juntos Afuera I’ve had a leading role where I taught the campers about xempasuchil flowers and Aztec deities, and I got to explore my interest in health by introducing them to first aid and showing them how to make a nutritional trail mix,” said Hernandez, who will attend Linn-Benton Community College this fall and then OSU in a program that will ready her for a career as a pediatric nurse.
“Leading these activities was a challenge but as I kept doing them, I slowly got more comfortable speaking to the group of campers and noticed how they are all slowly opening up to each other as well.”
Macias said, “Crystal did so much. She’s very good at arts and crafts. She incorporated Latin identity into the activities. She taught them how to make paper molas, and carton birds found in the Mapping Migraciones site of the Audubon Society.”
At Juntos Family Night earlier in the summer, about 70 people enjoyed traditional Aztec music and dance by Huehca Omeyocan, whose members talked about the instruments they play, why they do certain dances and the meaning of their colorful clothes. Then the group gathered up volunteers and taught them to dance.
Toward the end of the summer camp, the 12 students appeared in front of the Tillamook County Commissioners to talk about their experience in Juntos Afuera and present a multi-cultural calendar that includes relevant events and holidays like a traditional Mexican celebration that runs December 16-24. Each day, a different family organizes food, music, prayer and pinatas for the children. Macias said they didn’t want to influence the kids so gave them the freedom to put whatever they thought important to the community on the calendar.
In the process of working for Juntos Afuera, Hernandez learned a lot about OSU Extension.
“I didn’t know what Extension did,” said Hernandez, a 2021 graduate of Tillamook High School who was born and raised in the coastal town. “I got to learn about 4-H, helped with a STEM camp and worked with Juntos. I got to see how broad it is, how they serve the community and help. They inform the community and give them reliable information.”
In the end, Macias and Hernandez were thrilled at the results of Juntos Afuera.
“The girls told me they’ve all very much enjoyed the program,” Macias said. “They loved the outdoor stuff and want to do more. They want to do more arts and crafts connected to different parts of Latin America. They like to be let loose to create something. We showed the kids their roots, and they responded.”