Vecinos Serves our Neighbors

Photo by Michael Oppenheim

“I never thought much about the operations of a farm beyond what our family did every day with each crop we worked – corn, tobacco, alfalfa, cows, and others. I went to Appalachian State University and volunteered with the local farmworker health program teaching English, and I never really left the world of farmworker health and education.

Vecinos Farmworker Health Program is an outreach-focused healthcare organization. When I began as the ED, I was also serving as Outreach Coordinator. That level of work was unsustainable for one person. We needed to make some long-term changes. We started an organizational assessment process that led to our first strategic plan in 2018. We applied for and received funding from the Melvin R. Lane Fund to implement changes in 2019. Not even a year later, COVID hit, and Vecinos had to grow up and grow “out” very quickly. If it weren’t for the Lane Fund support and a CFWNC capacity grant at this extremely critical juncture in our organizational development cycle and as a healthcare agency, I doubt Vecinos would be where it is today.

The first year of the pandemic was a time of extreme uncertainty. It was also a time for funders to stand up and show their flexibility and willingness to meet the specific needs of a community, when it was needed, without unnecessary strings. Access to general operating support was a massive and welcome shift.

Vecinos patients and clients keep food on America’s tables but are often an invisible population, disenfranchised and forgotten. In cases of mixed-status families, there was no government-related pandemic relief, public housing support, or assistance paying bills. A proactive Human Services grant gave us the ability to keep and expand our staff and to reach out to patients in new ways. We were able to assess patient needs and assist them quickly and discreetly to keep them fed and in their own homes. The funds were part of a campaign that, through Vecinos, ultimately disseminated over $250,000 in pandemic relief funds.

Vecinos is currently working on a Capital Campaign for a Community Health Hub. We will raise $5.6 million dollars to purchase and renovate a property in Franklin to co-locate free, bilingual services. Partnering organizations are the 30th Alliance, Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic, El Centro Comunitario of Macon County, Pisgah Legal Services and Vecinos. Over 20 years, Vecinos’ services have changed, programs have changed, staff has changed, even our mission has changed - but our core belief and driving factor is farmworker healthcare.

Vecinos is named vecinos, because we emulate the concept of taking care of our neighbors. As a white woman leading an organization that serves primarily Latinx community members, I must bring their voices forward and share them at every opportunity. Together, we can set the standard for a model of flexible, dynamic, responsive healthcare. We involve patients with this vision, and it inspires them to trust our staff and the entire organization.

Through 2022, Vecinos received $334,500 in competitive grants and $60,000 in donor advised distributions.