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vicki walker

Troubled Teens Climb to New Heights in Rural America

Teens across the country are looking forward to the school year and many new experiences that will enrich their lives and start them on their way to future success. Those who struggle with mental health and addiction issues during this critical time of life, however, face tremendous challenges that not only threaten their present well-being, but can also limit their options well into adulthood.

USDA and the Obama Administration are committed to ensuring these youth, and all of our young people, have the support they need to grow and thrive – whether they live in large metropolitan areas or the most rural areas. An example of this support is a recently awarded USDA Business and Industry loan guarantee to finance the renovation and expansion of Rimrock Trails Adolescent Treatment Services in remote Prineville, Oregon. Last week, I joined professionals working in youth recovery and their many community partners to break ground on the project.

Homeownership and Independence Day Go Together Like Baseball and Apple Pie

This year, Independence Day will be even more meaningful for tens of thousands of families across the nation. With financing assistance from USDA, they will be able to gather their loved ones in their own homes and back yards to celebrate the holiday as homeowners.

As the Administrator for USDA’s housing programs, I spent the past weeks celebrating National Homeownership Month with rural families who are achieving the American Dream with USDA assistance. On the final day of the month-long celebration, I joined families who are now constructing their homes through USDA's Mutual Self-Help program, as well as another group of families moving into their new homes just in time to celebrate the Fourth of July.

USDA-Supported Small Business Assistance Provides a Ladder to Prosperity for Enterprising Hispanic Families

As a first-time small business owner, Nabor Ceja, has learned a lot since opening his restaurant, Chicken & Teriyaki, in Hood River, Oregon. Like many immigrants, Mr. Ceja wasn’t familiar with local processes and requirements for things like business registration, tax numbers, insurance, permits, licensing, hiring and employer obligations. With limited English proficiency, just asking the different agencies and offices for help was a significant barrier.

Mr. Ceja is not alone. Thirty percent of the population in Hood River County is Hispanic. Until recently, however, there were no small business assistance providers meeting the unique needs of the Hispanic community.

Gabriel Muro is the business services coordinator at a social services nonprofit called The Next Door. “I have met so many people who start businesses using their personal accounts, or who don’t get their W-9 forms submitted in time to demonstrate legal status and claim important exemptions. All of these things are done differently in Mexico.”

Oregon School Children, USDA "Energize" Earth Day

Last month, USDA Rural Development employees and several partner organizations donated their Saturday to celebrate Earth Day with elementary and middle school-aged children at the Castle Rock farm worker housing complex in Boardman, Oregon.

Volunteers from Energy Trust of Oregon, CASA of Oregon, Sustainable Agriculture and Energy (SAGE) Center, Wind Turbine Industries Corporation, and Kardon Construction joined USDA to lead a variety of interactive educational activities about energy conservation and renewable energy alternatives.

A Landscape View of Rural Economic Revitalization

Have you ever been on vacation, but just couldn’t get away from your work?  Me too.  It seems everywhere I look I see the footprint of USDA Rural Development and its ties to rural revitalization. Because I love my job and the good work USDA is doing, I am thrilled each and every time I see the results of this collaborative work to stimulate economies, modernize infrastructure, and enhance the quality of life in rural America.

In Oregon, Forest-based Economic Development Can Grow Faster than the Trees Themselves

At a recent expo held by the Oregon Woodland Cooperative (OWC), I had the opportunity to meet with a number of family forest landowners who are cultivating additional commercial ventures thanks, in part, to USDA’s Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program.

At the event, OWC President Neil Schroeder introduced me to cooperative members who have sprouted new businesses and created local jobs as a result. The terrific part of all this is that USDA’s VAPG program provided funds needed to conduct the in-field assessments, feasibility studies, business planning, and marketing activities needed to identify, process and sell new, non-lumber products harvested from Oregon’s family forests.

Rural Development Program Provides Quality Housing for Central Oregon’s Farm Workers

While on a recent visit to Oregon, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Victor Vasquez visited the Canyon East farm worker housing complex currently under construction in Madras. The USDA-supported facility is scheduled for completion in August, with families moving in shortly thereafter. Vasquez was joined by Oregon Rural Development State Director  Vicki Walker.

The community of Madras in Central Oregon is surrounded by numerous farming and ranching operations that provide fresh foods and products for regional markets. Many of these operations, including irrigated seed crops, potatoes and mint as well as the numerous hay and livestock operations, can be labor intensive, and rely on an infusion of farm workers. Yet, housing options in the Madras area have been limited for farm workers and their families, despite the integral and valued role they play in local agriculture as well as the overall community.

Oregon Business Owners, Community Leaders and Residents Share Success Stories and Frustrations at USDA Jobs Forum in Albany

Panels of economic experts, elected officials, community leaders and state agencies presented information in conjunction with Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Rural Development (RD) for a jointly hosted USDA Forum on Jobs & Economic Growth on January 21. The forum was held in Albany, a community with a 14 percent unemployment rate, well above the national rate.