Community expertise guides our engagement strategy

Arcora Foundation Associate Program Officer Matt Gonzalez shares how community-based organizations guide our work to support the oral and overall health of Latinx community members. 

Two Arcora Foundation staff members are dressed in summer party attire. To the right of them is the Tooth Fairy in a green dress and wings. They are standing in front of a brightly colored event tent.

Photo caption: Sharing smiles at the Latino Expo in Lynnwood this summer, hosted by the Latino Educational Training Institute (LETI). From left to right: Matt Gonzalez, Associate Program Officer; Nicole Hood, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program Manager; and Alex the Tooth Fairy from the Tooth Fairy Experience. 

I’m what you’d call a people person. Whether in person or over Zoom, I love connecting with organizations across the state to learn how we can best support your efforts to improve oral and overall health. And if we can have these conversations over a cup of coffee or good meal—even better. 

Relationships are truly at the center of all we do. Arcora Foundation’s 2022-2024 strategic plan centers our work in equity to achieve good oral and overall health for all. And this plan won’t become a reality unless we take meaningful steps to center people with lived experiences in it.

Over the past year, Arcora provided several Community Learning Grants to learn more about communities’ strengths and challenges. The goal is to of gather community-based solutions to oral health problems. These engagements helped us strengthen relationships with new and existing partners, as well as learn what efforts are going well—and where we can do better. 

Leveraging community strengths to forward racial equity.

I’ve had the privilege and joy to connect with many of you during my time at Arcora. As my current role grows, so do my opportunities to show up at community events and build one-on-one relationships with amazing Hispanic and Latinx-led organizations. 

Data shows that Hispanic children have a 50 percent higher rate of untreated decay than their white classmates. I want to stress that this disparity does not mean Hispanic communities have inherent failures. Rather, these disparities represent longstanding failures in our health care and racial justice systems, and countless missed chances to let the strengths of those with lived experience guide decision making. 

More than 500,000 people in Washington state speak Spanish at home. Without linguistically appropriate care, many may not be able to access the resources they need. In the U.S., 42 percent of undocumented individuals don’t have health insurance—compared to just 8 percent of citizens. Through programs like the SmileMobile, we work to fill the care gap for Washington’s uninsured and migrant populations. But it’s community-based partnerships that will really drive progress in our initiatives and state policymaking.

Partnerships bring about possibility.

Logo for Latino Educational Training Institute

The Latino Education Training Institute (LETI) provides ongoing work in education and training, health and safety, economic development, and community development, emphasizing first-generation Latino immigrants in Snohomish and Skagit County. Arcora is privileged to be partnering with LETI through grant funding, community events, SmileMobile clinics, and more.

I had a chance to chat with Marisol Bejarano, Health & Wellness Coordinator at LETI, about their partnership with Arcora and how funders can support community-based organizations as they make meaningful progress toward equity.

How has Arcora Foundation supported LETI?

“Our partnership with Arcora Foundation has allowed LETI to have a more extensive outreach within the community by offering additional services in high demand. Arcora supports our community programs, events, and programs that help ensure that we can continue our work within the community. 

“In our Latino community, it’s no secret that there is a considerable gap when it comes to dental resources as well as other health resources. That’s why we were more than happy to say “yes” when LETI was offered the opportunity to host the SmileMobile van at our Lynnwood location. 

“Oral health is such an essential aspect of overall well-being, and it was an excellent opportunity for our community to get started in their oral health journey after many years of not having the opportunity to see a dentist.”  

What advice do you have for other funders looking to support community-based efforts? 

“Don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Small organizations are often passed over because it can be harder to connect with them, as we have limited staff and space, unlike larger organizations. Our advice is to be persistent, patient, and flexible in connecting with organizations that work hand-in-hand with the local community—a community that larger organizations may not be able to reach. 

“Likewise, small organizations shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to larger organizations or funders with the needs of their community. Often, larger organizations are looking to be more involved in the community but don’t know how to do it. Be diligent in advocating for your community because no one will understand it better than you. 

“Thank you to Arcora Foundation for the support and trust in community programs and outreach. Organizations like yours help LETI continue to work within our community to help educate, empower, and support those who need it most!” 

Arcora Foundation’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion work is based on three interrelated parts: learning, operationalizing, and partnering. Our engagements with organizations and community members don’t end after one event or listening session. In this approach, we continuously integrate feedback into our work. What’s most important is that we are a thoughtful and beneficial partner in helping more people achieve their full health potential. 

Shared goals for positive change.

In this work, I’ve learned that “you must go slow to go fast” are words to live by. Building valuable, two-way relationships takes time. Once those relationships are formed, we can be more efficient in our shared goals and desires for positive change. This is especially true when the perception might be foundations and grant makers have unbalanced power dynamics or covert agendas. Many of our deepest partnerships have grown over years if not decades. In this time, we’ve learned to listen with an openness to change—and have community expertise guide how the relationship develops. 

I look forward to meeting with more of you—and perhaps sharing some good coffee and food in the process. If you have any questions or ideas on how we can support your work, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at  

About Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM) takes place September 15 to October 15 every year as a time to recognize and celebrate the many contributions, diverse cultures, and extensive histories of the American Latino community. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 2022 is focused on “Building Prosperous and Healthy Communities.” Arcora Foundation honors the diverse people and cultures who make up Washington state’s Latinx communities in our work to build healthier futures for all, with no one left behind.

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