This year, LJIST and Latino Network are celebrating 10 years of UNID@S for Oregon, a cohort-based Latine leadership program. UNID@S, the vision of two of Oregon’s boldest Chicana leaders, Serena Cruz and Carmen Rubio, was born, like many visionary ideas, on a cocktail napkin.

Despite being neighbors in NE Portland, Serena and Nanci first met in California in 2000. Nanci was facilitating the inaugural week for National Hispana Leadership Institute’s (NHLI) flagship program. Serena was one of 22 Latinas from around the US selected to participate in their Executive Leadership Fellowship. Upon returning to Portland, Nanci worked on a couple of projects with Serena in her role as County Commissioner. That’s when Nanci met Carmen, who was on Serena’s staff at that time.

In 2010, Serena and Carmen invited Nanci to dinner to discuss their vision for a state-wide Latine leadership program: UNID@S for Oregon. Carmen and Serena’s friendship, hard work, and leadership have improved the lives of countless Oregonians, including more than 190 Latine leaders who have graduated from the UNID@S program.

Similar to NHLI’s fellowship program, UNID@S is an eight-month program that kicks off with LJIST’s signature Transforming Relationships Program. During this intensive retreat, the cohort experiences LJIST’s healing framework and social justice practices. And this work has continued despite the COVID-19 pandemic! Under the leadership of Linda Jaramillo (UNID@S Alum and Program Manager) and Joaquin Lopez (UNID@S Alum and former Program Manager), LJIST has led cohorts IX and X through a multi-part virtual Kick-Off series.

“I thought the online workshop was well organized and beautifully presented… Relearning and revisiting the concepts, I had new perspectives and insights.”

Joaquin Lopez

Whether in-person or virtual, a key aspect of the UNID@S program draws on LJIST’s Listening Partnership program. During the kick-off, cohort members are assigned a Constructivist Listening Partner and commit to a weekly practice for the duration of the program. UNID@S graduates have testified to the importance of the Listening Partnerships for growing and emboldening their leadership. Many of these partnerships are still meeting years later!

“In the sessions that follow throughout the year, the Listening Partnerships are the glue that hold the program’s integrity as Cohort participants build relationships. It is such a gift to be listened to.”   

Linda Jaramillo

Over the first decade of this transformative partnership with Latino Network, with Carmen at the helm as its Executive Director, UNID@S for Oregon has been the catalyst for releasing and growing Latine leadership throughout the State, and beyond! Many graduates have become executive directors, elected officials, superintendents, members of boards and commissions, and appointed to the Governor’s and Biden-Harris Administrations. Many have developed innovative and creative partnerships built on relationships forged through UNID@S.

After leading the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center during the COVID pandemic, Serena recently returned to the County as the Chief Operating Officer and Director of County Management. In 2020, Carmen was elected as Portland’s first Latine Commissioner. And LJIST is excited to continue to play a key, ongoing role for future UNID@S Cohorts.

To learn more about the UNID@S program, click here.