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Mariachi program builds a stronger community

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The impact of the valley's Mariachi program will on display for the next week, culminating with the Mariachi Northwest Festival at the Wenatchee High School Auditorium on Saturday night, March 30.

On Friday night, a jam-packed crowd of more than 350 people heard the six local Mariachi bands from the Wenatchee School District play at a fundraising dinner at the high school. Ramon Rivera, the director of the program, has taken a strong program and has elevated it to a higher level with his boundless enthusiasm. His connection with kids is readily apparent. Mariachi students hang around his office after school until he leaves for the day.

Rivera has a knack for turning everyone he meets into a supporter of the program. His passion, energy and enthusiasm are irresistible. Just ask Gov. Jay Inslee, who was captured on video recently celebrating Mariachi Huenachi during their visit to the capitol. This week, I stopped and listened to the Pioneer Marciachi practice and discovered he's opened the door to students with developmental disabilities to practice with the group. These students can't participate in many other activities but they can strum along with a guitar and sing. That speaks volumes about Rivera.

This program has had an enormous impact on the lives of Latino students and their families in our communities. That's a point that Wenatchee School Board member Jesus Hernandez made to me at the event. The program has non-Latino students participating as well, making it a multicultural experience.

In all, some 300 students are involved in Mariachi in the valley. Any time you've got students engaged in a productive activity whether it's sports, music, drama or clubs, the greater sense of connection they feel to each other and the community.

This week, local students will be doing workshops with professional musicians to further inspire their work, culminating in the concert on Saturday night.

What a blessing for our valley and by turning out and watching the performances, we can support this vital program that builds a stronger, more vibrant and resilient community.