In the two and a half years since she arrived in Spokane, Patricia Castaneda has already made herself a familiar and admired face in many different circles. She is a frequent chef at Feast World Kitchen, has been an integral staff member at World Relief, and is hard at work founding Manzanita House, a new organization dedicated to closing the gap between Spokane’s immigrant community and critical resources. She considers herself very fortunate to do what she loves and bring about real change in Spokane, while also being able to support herself and her two daughters. “The most important and with long term impact job that I do is being a mother,” she said, “and then after that my motto is to be occupied instead of preoccupied… I think that through COVID, I was so grateful that I was able to forget what was going on… [At World Relief], I had the opportunities to talk to people who needed community, who needed company, who needed help and we were able to provide that. That feeling is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done with my life.”
Patricia was born on Margarita Island, Venezuela and moved to the United States after studying business management in England. She moved to Spokane in the summer of 2019 and felt a pull to stay. “Everybody told me [Spokane] was in the middle of nowhere, but I liked it. I liked it very much,” she said. Shortly after arriving, she found World Relief and joined in the efforts to strengthen outreach for the 2020 Census. This temporary job turned into a full-time position when she co-created and co-led World Relief’s Community Ambassador Program, in which trusted leaders from immigrant and refugee communities connect their communities to the resources offered by World Relief and refer to other organizations. “We found the right people to form an amazing group of leaders,” Patricia said. “We hired people that…were already helping their communities with no support, with no resources, with no information. We invited them to come with us and get paid to do what they were already doing.” Community Ambassadors were particularly busy during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as they were focused on COVID awareness and a partnership with the health department to expand access to vaccination clinics. With in-person connection being abruptly cut off in March 2020, ambassadors also served as vital sources of company and virtual connection for immigrants and refugees working through personal trauma. On hard days, Patricia finds strength in the resilience of her clients who have faced significant hardships. Helping them “thrive and flourish” has been an irreplaceable source of joy and meaning in her life.
Patricia is also thrilled that World Relief has collaborated closely with the Northeast Community Center and The ZONE. Through this partnership, Patricia said that the needs for housing, food security, and community were much more effectively addressed. “The ZONE and Northeast Community Center are very good at finding the needs for the local communities and find best ways to fulfill them,” she said. “At the beginning [of the pandemic], we were distributing 180 fresh boxes of food every week since March 2020. Then we partnered with [NECC] in the grant with Safeway and we were able to distribute more food… We found ways of being more intentional and effective and proactive on helping others.”
Patricia is currently volunteering at Manzanita House and working at World Relief. “Our goal at Manzanita [is to] offer legal aid to immigrants in general: documented, undocumented, refugees… We also want to be intentional about helping families to achieve self-sufficiency.” Programs for mental health and education are also in the works. The education programs will focus both on strengthening local integration as well as improving connections within immigrant groups. For example, Manzanita House plans to offer Arabic language classes for second-generation immigrants who can speak Arabic, but want to improve their reading and writing abilities. These classes are set to take place in the Northeast Community Center. Manzanita House has also been in conversation with the Northeast Community Center in other projects that may serve as job training opportunities for immigrants and youth in Northeast Spokane.
When asked what she wishes folks in Spokane knew about our immigrant community, she said, “We’re all different. Our cultures, our religions, our backgrounds are different. It’s like when you are here in the United States. You have 50 states. Each state is absolutely distinct: accents, ways of doing things. It is the same thing. We are not scary… We are hardworking people; we are strong… These are people like you and me… We just have to welcome... If you give yourself the opportunity to get to know us better, you’ll find that we are amazing.”
Patricia is grateful for the connections she has made in Spokane and is proud of the work she has accomplished thus far. “It’s beautiful, and I’ve been growing as a person and as a professional. I was also able to get a scholarship to do a leadership certificate at Gonzaga [University], and it was also amazing. I don’t know why I came to Spokane, but I do know why I’m staying. I just had to make myself available, and I’ve been asked and I’ve been able to help more and more people… I want to show myself as who I am, as a person that just wants to work hard and do as much as I can—with a very thick accent!”