Spanish speakers study steps to success

Sara Maya, pictured with partner and fellow MonteAlban co-owner Juan Jimenez, has been learning more about personal and business finance through the “Pasos al Exito,” or Steps to Success, program helping Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs.

When she opened MonteAlban Mexican restaurant with partner Juan Jimenez four years ago, Sara Maya had plenty of experience cooking but said her English and business skills were both lacking. Over those last four years, Maya has taken advantage of local resources meant to help entrepreneurs limited by their English skills.

Most recently, she joined “Pasos al Exito,” or Steps to Success, a set of new personal and business finance classes in Spanish through the Rural Development Initiatives geared toward rural Latinos and experiencing record enrollment.

In a monthlong class, Maya and more than 25 other entrepreneurs went over the essentials of personal finance, from starting a checking account to building credit before buying a home.

Now participants are in the middle of a second course, learning about how to start a business and be successful entrepreneurs. Maya said her class includes an aspiring DJ, a restaurateur, a contractor and others all hoping to own their own business.

“Spanish people have good ideas and are hard workers,” Maya said, adding the class teaches them how to turn their ideas into reality, while paying more taxes and helping the regional economy.

The Rural Development Initiatives, with both private and public grant funding, visits two different communities each year. Last year was Milton-Freewater and Ontario, said Program Manager Kristine Mier, and this year the program visits Madras and Astoria.

“One of the things I hear in communities around Oregon and nationally … is that our Latino community is growing,” Mier said. “Many people feel disconnected from the Latino community, and I think this is a good way to provide support and feel a connection with them.”

The classes often get fewer than 20 students, she said, but in Astoria they have been averaging about 28, the highest enrollment the program has seen thus far. Mier credited the high participation rate to existing support services for the Hispanic community.

Jorge Gutierrez, director of the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council, said the council sought out community buy-in and help in recruiting students through its “Voz de la Comunidad” — or Voice of the Community — advisory group.

When Steps to Success started, Gutierrez said, organizers were hopeful half the students would complete the personal finance course. But when more than 90 percent persisted, he said, organizers knew they had a program in great demand.

After the courses are over, participants can continue receiving help from Clatsop Community College’s Small Business Development Center advisers like Gutierrez, a primary adviser for Spanish-speaking business owners.

“The biggest obstacle is just getting the information and education necessary,” he said. “One of the biggest drawbacks is that many Hispanic residents who come to me for business counseling, they have limited education. Writing a business plan is challenging.”

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