Maria Tarajano Rodman was brought to the United States when she was four years old. She distinctly remembers her mother kneeling to kiss the ground of their natal Cuba before boarding the airplane. Something in her mother knew that they would not be returning within her lifetime. Whether the memory is truly Rodman’s, or ingrained by the story’s repetition, the lived experiences of immigrating have deeply informed her decisions, most recently to serve as Valley Settlement’s next Executive Director.
Arriving in the Roaring Fork Valley from Farmington, New Mexico, Rodman is quick to affirm that she’s encountered her dream job and is “bouncing out of bed for work.” Previously, she served as CEO of Boys and Girls Club of Farmington, an organization that strives to empower young people to realize their potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens. She believes in the value of community work and anticipates that this will be the final part of her career.
The mission of Valley Settlement, to improve the lives of local immigrants, aligns with Rodman’s desire to reciprocate the values that helped her own family find home in a foreign country. Her parents often told her while growing up, “We came here, we were supported. You were supported. Whatever you do, please find a way to be of service.”
In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled against ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy established by the Obama Administration in 2012. The news of this decision was emotionally felt by Rodman, centering her wish to serve immigrant families. Knowing this, her husband saw the Valley Settlement job listing and immediately informed her. She submitted an application and “beauty happened.” The interview process mirrored her own values: inclusive, thorough, and thoughtful with a focus on conversation.
Rodman’s joining Valley Settlement coincides with the nonprofit, which began as a project of the Manaus Fund in 2011, relocating from the Third Street Center in Carbondale to the U.S. Bank Building in Glenwood Springs. The move places Valley Settlement more centrally within their area of service and closer to a bus route. Nonetheless, the organization will continue operating throughout the area with mobile and remote programs.
Valley Settlement focuses on six primary programs, each variably impacted by COVID:
The Parent Mentor Program trains parents to assist in local schools. Placed on hold throughout the pandemic, the plan is to resume in the fall.
El Busecito Mobile Preschool consists of traveling classrooms for preschoolers. Now operating virtually with weekly activity bags distributed to students, the program serves nearly 100 preschoolers twice a week.
Learning with Love teaches parents and their toddlers skills like building routines, fostering social-emotional wellness, and language and numbers.
Family, Friends and Neighbors was designed to alleviate child care challenges in the Roaring Fork Valley by nurturing a network of informal care providers with a two-year training program.
Lifelong Learning focuses on adult education with topics like computer literacy, English, and math.
Alma is a peer-based mental health support group for pregnant women and mothers of young children.
As a trusted community advocacy organization, Valley Settlement directly witnessed discrepancies laid bare by COVID, with the local “Hispanic or Latino” demographic testing positive at a rate disproportionately high compared to its share of the general population. Meanwhile, the socioeconomic impacts of closures, restrictions, and lack of access to government aid have actively worsened inequality.
In response, part of Rodman’s new job will be to further Valley Settlement’s mission with new programs. The process begins with community listening sessions planned for 2021. So far, she has taken joy in “learning as a student” from her staff and volunteers. She describes her staff as “25 amazing women,” continuing, “They’re already leaders, we only need to support.”
In 2006 and 2009, Rodman returned to Cuba with her father. Her mother, true to intuition, had passed away before the opportunity arrived. Rodman could see her mother’s hands in the hands of their relatives and understood the grief that their family transited. Experiencing the resilience of her parents laboring for their dream, and having joined the workforce herself at a young age, Rodman grew up valuing education and community. She understands firsthand the need for “doing together, not for” and “learning from by advocating with.”
It takes community support to keep The Sopris Sun shining.