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In a portable building next to Grass Valley Charter School, one woman is making a positive difference in the lives of the region’s Latino families.

Maria (Rocio) Mojica-Bierwirth works with youth and adults in Nevada County to provide English Language Development and mental health awareness through the PARTNERS Family Resource Center.

Maria (Rocio) Mojica-Bierwirth works with youth and adults in Nevada County to provide English Language Development and mental health awareness through the PARTNERS Family Resource Center.

“I’m kind of the one that’s the conduit. I’ll help anybody who needs help,” Mojica-Bierwirth said.

She first came to the position in 2019 to help destigmatize mental health and shine a light on suicide prevention by providing Spanish translated resources and classes. Her role funded by Nevada County Superintendent of Schools and Nevada County Behavioral Health has grown to be so much more.

Earlier this month, Mojica-Bierwirth helped to organize Día de los Reyes Magos or Three Kings Day for Bell Hill School families in Grass Valley. The event had to be rescheduled and re-formatted to keep 20 participating families safe during the recent Covid surge.

Community-donated food and toys went home with students. BriarPatch donated gift certificates, and the Co-op looks forward to future collaborations with Mojica-Bierwirth and the Partners Resource Center in 2022.

“As our Latinx community continues to grow, we are so excited for the opportunity to connect and support their needs. Rocio is such an important leader in our community. She provides fundamental resources for families, including translation services and information on food access, health and nutrition,” said BriarPatch Community Engagement Coordinator Courtney Tarrant.

Children received gifts during the Día de los Reyes Magos or Three Kings Day for Bell Hill School families in Grass Valley.

Each year, Mojica-Bierwirth connects with 70 – 100 individuals and their extended families. The largest population she works with are families with children at Bell Hill Academy. With both parents working, and little time to cook from scratch, sometimes grabbing fast food or a bag of chips is more convenient and affordable. Diabetes and obesity is on the rise in children.

Mojica-Bierwirth is working with families to encourage them to buy what is in season and create quick, easy-to-prepare and healthy meals at home. She is working with BriarPatch to develop recipes and possibly cooking classes in the future. 

“If I can be a motivator, that will be a benefit to them, that will make me happy.”

Savoring the culture

Mojica-Bierwirth grew up in a family of seven children and learned to make do with what was available to her. Born in Mexico, in the town of Purisima de Bustos in the state of Guanajuato, Mojica-Bierwirth’s family moved to Newcastle, California when she was three years old. She knows first-hand what it’s like to be a child speaking two languages, between two worlds.

She remembers learning to read in English in first grade and how exciting it was for her. She hopes to instill that same love of language with the students she works with in local schools, while helping to foster a love for the gift that culture is. 

“Savor that culture you have, there’s so much beauty in it,” she tells them.

Over the years Mojica-Bierwirth has built trust and rapport on the street and now people seek her out. She has become an advocate and liaison for the Latino community, lending a hand where it is needed.

“It’s taking a long time to build that confidence.”

During the Covid pandemic, many people were struggling to make ends meet and the housing crisis is compounding daily stressors like racism, language barriers and legal status. Even though the local economy is dependent on the Latino community for providing much of the service, construction and landscaping industry workforce, people are losing housing and having to double up with other families. Mental health awareness is needed more than ever.

“Culturally it was something people didn’t want to talk about,” Mojica-Bierwirth said.

She reassures her clients – this is just human nature, these things happen, it’s OK.  She helps folks recognize signs of getting overwhelmed, how to help themselves and bring back healthy balance so they can function in their daily lives. Covid has put a damper on outreach efforts.

“More normal life is slowly coming back,” she said.

With deep respect for the tenacity and resiliency of the Latino culture, she wishes there were more services available. She has an eye on Latino Outreach happening in the Eastern part of the county and would love to see more social networking and recreational activities offered in Grass Valley and Nevada City. Things like exercise and cooking classes and book clubs would go far to elevate spirits and connect people to one another.

“We try to morph with what the community is needing and help people where it counts.”

In the year ahead, in addition to her continued suicide prevention outreach and planning individual and group wellness activities Mojica-Bierwirth will provide parenting and exercise classes. She looks forward to seeing 211 Connecting Point continue to grow their Spanish translated resource lists. More Spanish speakers working at service organizations is a gap that needs to be filled.

It has been absolutely wonderful to take part in a service job that takes care of the community.”

Individuals, schools and other institutions who want to learn more about PARTNERS Family Resource Center can visit https://partnersfamilyresourcecenters.org/