Balbina Valadez has been working with nonprofits since she graduated from high school, providing information on healthcare services, interpreting for immigrants, and conducting research on a range of issues. “I’m one of those people that likes to learn a lot of things,” she says. “And I like to help people.”
Valadez arrived in South Sioux City at age 10, when her parents brought her and her younger siblings from Jalisco, a state in west-central Mexico, to Siouxland to join her older siblings. There were 13 children. “For us it was like bringing the family together,” she says. Valadez, nine of her siblings, and her mother are U.S. citizens. The three remaining siblings live in Mexico.
In Siouxland, several of Valadez’s brothers work in the trades, doing construction, electrical, and roofing work—industry critical to the region’s successful growth. “We need all those people here. That’s basically what’s moving the community,” says Valadez, pointing to a low unemployment rate and job growth expected to rise 36 percent over a decade. “The community’s growing and that’s the reason why.”
We need all those people here. That’s basically what’s moving the community. The community’s growing and that’s the reason why.”
Valadez graduated from Briar Cliff University with a bachelor’s degree in graphic arts, and now leads translation and interpretive services at Mary J. Treglia Community House, a nonprofit that assists children and families. She also volunteers at Unity in Action, a nonprofit that promotes workers’ rights, civic engagement, and justice, particularly for the immigrant population. She and several community leaders launched the organization in 2014 with her brother Ismael, who serves as executive director.
In addition to other work, Unity in Action helps immigrants study for the citizenship test, so they can become more engaged and productive members of the community, and provides information on their right to a safe workplace. “There are a lot of things that happen in the meatpacking plants,” Valadez says. “The lines move very fast. People get hurt.” Presentations by the federal Occupational Safety and Health and Administration help workers understand how to report violations, efforts that help improve job safety for all plant workers. “We don’t charge for any of our services,” says Valadez.