Los Cien award recipient, Maricarmen Reyes, ‘lives and breathes community’

Maricarmen Reyes has known since she was 11 years old that she wanted to help the Latino community.

Now at 45, Reyes’ list of commitments dedicated to helping those around her is longer than most people’s shopping lists.

Besides what she calls her “main job” at the Sonoma Valley Health Center as the outreach and event coordinator, Reyes works with a number of nonprofit, community outreach or volunteer organizations.

She provides tutoring at Santa Rosa Junior College, is a member of the Springs Municipal Advisory Council, is a board member at the nonprofit Research Information Supporting Knowledge Sonoma, a board member at the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, a board member for The Catalyst Fund, a member of the Suicide Prevention Coalition for the county, and a member of Lideres Campesinas Napa-Sonoma Chapter.

“If she got paid for all the things that she does, she would be a millionaire,” her friend and colleague, Xochitl Marquez, said

Reyes’ involvement and dedication to uplifting the Latino community through Spanish outreach and emergency preparedness earned her a Puente y Ganas award earlier this year.

Hechale Ganas! Give it your all!

The Puente y Ganas award, given by Los Cein, a nonprofit organization centered around keeping Sonoma County a sustainable, inclusive and equitable place, has four pillars the winner of the award must uphold: Engagement, elevation, service and innovation.

The person must engage with the community by building bridges, go above and beyond, and look for ways to improve. Reyes was nominated by her close friend Karina Garcia, who works as a field representative for Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin. The nomination was supported by Gorin.

Reyes has known Garcia since they were in the sixth grade.

Gorin, who has worked with Reyes and only recently began to get to know her, describes Reyes’ uniqueness, which she attributes to “her beautiful smile, her demeanor and a knowledge of the community and the people who live in the community and the creative outreach.”

This year, there were 20 nominees for the award, with five who continued on to the final round.

“When it came to the overall grading, Maricarmen was at the top of everyone’s score card,” said Herman G. Hernandez, executive director of Los Cien.

Praised for seeming to have more than 24 hours in a day to help serve the communities around her, Maricarmen was awarded the Puente y Ganas award on June 24 during Los Cien’s third annual Puente y Ganas Awards ceremony at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa.

The power of a Chicana

Reyes’ Sonoma-born-and-raised drive to serve the community started with Prop 187, the bill that sought to deny social services, nonemergency health services and public education to undocumented immigrants living in California. At 11, she was concerned for what that meant for her Mexican immigrant parents.

Her identity as a Chicana, drove her to study Chicano and Latino Studies at Sonoma State University.

“If I could help others, like how other people helped my parents in the ʼ80s, then I want to do that for my community,” Reyes said.

Reyes’ advocacy led her to work with Vineyard Workers Services. She has also been a member of the Lideres Campesinas Napa-Sonoma Chapter since its creation in 2011, serving as their representative to help educate farmworker women to help them to stand up and prevent violence. She also is an SRJC tutor who helps students through the High School Equivalency Program, which is a GED program for farmworker students.

“I happen to be Latina but in reality, I care for being able to bridge our communities so that we are one community,” she said.

“From the first moment you meet her, she can start seeing your strengths and she gives you advice, saying ‘oh you would be so good at doing this or that,’ her close friend and colleague at Sonoma Valley Community Hospital, Xochitl Marquez, said.

Reyes calls herself a “connector” of people.

“She is like a walking resource center, you can ask her about anything. It is incredible how much she knows,” Marquez said.

Part of being a “connector,” Reyes said, has been leading Spanish outreach. She works with the members of the Latino community in Sonoma Valley that do not speak English, helping them acquire access to emails or computers.

“She is completely authentic and so when she is able to demonstrate that she can provide value and resources and help people get connected with things they need … they listen to her because she has built relationships and trust,” said Angela Ryan, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation.

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