Neighbors looking out for neighbors



Roberto Matus

Organizational life mimics human life cycles – birth, youth, midlife, maturity – and Sunnyside Transformation Yakima Valley’s life has entered the youth stage.

In my daily work as director, I interact with people in many ways, often times attending meetings.

One recent assembly was planned to be just like many others – agenda items, discussions, resolutions, adjournment – but this one was so exceptional that I left the gathering with a deep sense of relief and excitement.

What’s so exciting about a meeting with five other people talking about how to bridge the huge gaps present in our community?

Allow me to explain what was so special about this get-together.

One person asked if she would be given the opportunity to share what she learned from her daughter, about something occurring at the high school in the last few days. Muslim students of Arabic origin are being verbally attacked by their peers in our schools.

A discussion ensued, and at some point a question was asked to all attendees: “Do you think we have a cohesive community in which all of us live and work together?”

All answered “No” without hesitation.

Our discussion continued, but everyone around the table talked about some things that could have set off a series of outbursts of negative feelings, antagonism, anger, etc., in other settings.

The Cultural Agility committee of Sunnyside United-Unidos is charged to talk, explore and discuss these topics with the hope of discovering the practical steps necessary to affect a paradigm shift in the mindset of people living in our town.

Sunnyside as a whole does have its own personality, character and quirks that are unique to us all. No other town like us exists. It behooves us to rediscover who we are, to relearn about our roots as the people of Sunnyside – regardless of where we came from, how and why we came – but rather why we stayed to make our lives together.

As someone who arrived almost 15-years ago into this town I now call home and strive to see it flourish – and not see, read and hear derision in talk on social media, newspapers, etc., about my town – I was happy to be part of that discussion.

I’ll write this: We must do more to unlearn the wrong practices of the past and relearn the ways of building, strengthening community. Systems have been created to help, to care for individuals, which deprive us of personal contact with our neighbors.

Rather than making us responsible for our neighbors’ well-being we’ve traded interactions for forms, phone trees or a hot line we call.

We’ve become isolated local residents. Our town has become unable to perform individual neighborly functions and responsibilities regularly, consistently.

Regarding a healthy community, we must take care of our neighbors, because our own is linked to our town’s health.

In terms of security, we must not place the total burden on our police department, their limited resources are stretched thin. Our security depends on our strong sense of community and how we take care of each other with the help of law enforcement and other agencies.

We, the people of the City of Sunnyside, have the power to build a resilient, strong economy, not people from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, let’s use our power. We are well suited to produce enough food for our most weak residents, for ourselves and to gain a profit from selling our surplus to others in faraway places, let’s feed our own.

We have the people, resources and means to create a new generation of productive citizens in our schools. But such obligation is not the domain of schools and staff only, rather it is for our entire village to take the responsibility of our children’s education in collaboration with schools. Let’s become allies with our schools.

All these things must happen in order to build the community we all dream and talk about. But the dream continues to elude us.

My excitement stems from the fact that after many years of beating the drum for community building and seeing people nodding in agreement but not really taking it all in – or being non-committal to at least exploring the idea – the notion surfaced almost by serendipity.

At the end of our meeting, we walked away with something that may result in a future, larger conversation with our neighbors, so discrimination and other despicable things humans do one another may be limited or even done away.

All these make the moral, and religious compliance with Jesus’ summary of God’s Law very practical:

“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

“This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

- Roberto Matus is the director of Sunnyside Transformation Yakima Valley.


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