Ginni Cook has paved the road for the Hispanic population in Alta. It has been a postive journey, she says.
She will be moving from the area and it is hoped that someone will try to slide into her shoes and pick up where she has left off. That will be difficult. Ginni moved to Alta 12 years ago, employed at the Prevention Department of Northwest Iowa Alcohol and Drug Treatment Unit, situated in Storm Lake.
It all comes to awareness - making people aware of new friends, new opportunities, new lives.
She made her home in the Westview Trailer Park and found herself a neighbor to a few Hispanic families. The caring and compassionate person Ginni is, she quickly knew she wanted to be a good neighbor and help them adjust to their new lives in a place where their native language was not spoken.
She applied for a grant that would pay for an English as a Second Language class for the adults to take part in. It was later that she recognized the need to help enrich the children living in the trailer park. Another grant was obtained and trailer park manager Sheldon Weinert provided an empty trailer for Cook, and a host of volunteers showed up, to offer classes of all sorts for the kids, all the kids, regardless of their skin color, to take part in.
Alta Connections was born and out of this came many fascinating programs that benefitted a great number of people, young and old.
Ginni was adamant about reaching the children in the schools as well. She organized a reading coalition and involved 67 volunteers to come in and read in the classrooms. She is still amazed when she thinks of the project; in four months, those volunteers shared 174 hours with the kids.
Also made available through grant money came the Kids Kollege, held in the school setting in the summer to simply give the kids something to do.
"This was an effort to have kids come and have lots of fun and learn new things," said Cook. "We also stressed that kids do alternative activities, learn new skills and be with other kids rather than sitting at home doing nothing."
Community people were asked to serve as instructors for a myriad of classes; the response was always overwhelming.
At the Alta Connections center, Cook, again with volunteers from the community as well as Buena Vista University, provided instruction on everything from how to make brownies to reading.
"Our main goal was always intended to connect the children to their parents and connect parents with other parents and integrate the neighborhood to the community. We certainly have done this."
Cook brought in grant after grant as well as gathered donations from the community and individuals to provide programs to benefit the kids, including training for teachers and to send students to the Latino Conference in Des Moines.
Throughout those 10 years, she said with confidence, "$476,000 worth of programs were provided in the community."
The Alta Connections center was used to the maximum; a second structure, provided by current manager of the trailer park, Henry Derksen, was provided. This structure was dubbed as the Westview Community Center; a great deal of activity has been held here as well.
Just how loved Ginni Cook is can be measured in part by the streams of people that came to the party planned for her by Ofelia Valdez, who considers Ginni as a mentor, and other friends and neighbors. And just how much she will be missed, is unimaginable.
The 10 years has been a learning experience, she said.
"I've learned a lot about process. Eventually, things will happen. Working with people takes process building. The key is to keep people informed and I've tried to do that through the churches, the chamber, the city, the school. It takes courage to say there is a need here."
Ginni has served as an advocate for the neighborhood and she is thrilled to see that her hard work has paid off. There is a connection, an Alta Connection, that she hopes will remain when she is gone.
The Hispanic population, in the trailer park especially, has grown in those 10 years, she said, and while serving as a teacher to the population, she has learned even much more from them. "They provide a consistent, warm, open generosity. They are willing to be friends and help their neighbors," she shared.
One thing she did not have the time to learn from the people is their language - to the degree she wished she had, she said.
Ginni helped introduce the Spanish adult classes, supported financially with funds from Kiwanis, businesses and the city, for a few years now. Adults from not only Alta but other communities have jumped right in to widen their own horizons.
Throughout her reign, she also helped organize Spanish classes for children to take part in so they can get a step ahead in their futures as well as communicate with new friends. Ofelia has served as one of the teachers for this program.
The children in the neighborhood provided a program of songs for Ginni during their picnic. "I love your children," she told those in attendance at her party. "I am hoping they will continue to grow together and you work together to make this a special place."
Ofelia has been in the neighborhood for four years and has always looked up to Ginni.
"She has been here to give the kids something to do. If they needed anything, even a band aid, she'd be the one they would go to. She is so wise and knows everything. She has been my guardian angel - and to many other, too. I will miss her a lot."
Ginni is headed to Chicago, for awhile at least, where her daughter Tigst, an Alta HS grad, will be married in August.
She has always believed that God has put her in the places He wants her to be but hasn't been given directions yet as to what she will be doing.
"I was called to wrap this up here and leave but I don't know where I'll end up."