Kerstin Colón was ready for a career change. And the Corvallis Multicultural Literacy Center was looking for an executive director. It was kind of a convergence.
“I had come here for events,” Colón said, “and I always saw and appreciated what was going on here, but I had never volunteered.”
The center took on a higher profile when its landlord, Oregon State University, announced plans to end its lease at the Sunflower House and build upper-division housing on the Southwest Ninth Street site. Backers of the center testified repeatedly at Corvallis City Council meetings.
“I became more familiar with the center after the community rallied behind it,” Colón said. “Then, when I saw this position open … I was looking for a change from higher ed.”
Colón worked at the University of Central Florida and Oregon State University — with a decade of home-schooling in between — and said “a big part of who I am and believe in is alternative education. That’s one of the reasons I was excited about this opportunity.
“As long as I am here, it will be community-based education, utilizing everyday folks to share experiences and empower people to be the best that they are. So many people in the community are underutilized. That’s such a loss to me.”
In her first couple of weeks at the center — she started Feb. 5 — Colón has dealt with minor crises such as a roof leak in a classroom and a teacher calling in sick. She's also been spending time just getting acquainted.
“There is a lot to take in,” she said. “Getting to know the staff and volunteers.”
Colón is continuing to work a couple of hours a day as OSU’s ombuds program coordinator through the end of the month while the university works to replace her.
But her biggest challenge is the upcoming move of the center to new quarters on Northwest Jackson Avenue in an OSU building that formerly housed the Asian & Pacific Cultural Center.
“We’re going into a different phase,” she said. “Part of it is the move. You cannot underestimate what that means to people. People are concerned and nervous, but there are also opportunities for growth. Getting people through that is going to be a big part of my job and not just for the staff … it’s the community as well.”
The Jackson property is significantly smaller than the Sunflower House. OSU is paying approximately $200,000 for remodeling, moving and operations expenses and the center’s $1 per month lease will remain. No date has been set for the move, although the center’s lease at the Sunflower House has been extended to June 30.
Colón was able to do a walk-through of the Jackson property and noted that one benefit is that it is wheelchair-accessible (the Sunflower House is not).
Colón’s mother is German, her father is Puerto Rican and she spent much of her early years in Puerto Rico, where she had a nickname of “la blanquita” because of her fair skin. Corvallis, she said, has been challenging “because of the demographics here. Folks are not used to seeing people who look different from them. But they try hard to be welcoming.”
When asked about her goals for the center, Colón said: “I can’t form that vision until I talk to the people here and get a sense from them about what they do. It’s not about me. It’s about the Corvallis Multicultural Literacy Center and where the community wants to see it go.”