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Life and Work with Rose Adams

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rose Adams.

Rose, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I teach art history at Cal State Fullerton. Walls that Unite was born out of a study abroad program I created to take college students to learn about Mexican muralism in Mexico City and about culture in Guanajuato. While there, students immerse themselves in art, education, politics, and history for two weeks.

After the first year of running this program, I realized that my students could deepen their understanding of Mexico by participating in a service-learning project that was directly tied to the curriculum. I partnered with a migrant club that helped organize the activity and took my students to the town of Ojos de Agua in Guanajuato, where they combined their academic work and knowledge of the murals in an art project they created with 50 children.

Ojos de Agua is a small community, one of many in this area. These ranchos have more in common than just dirt roads. Residents migrate in large numbers to the United States, not looking for better living conditions, but simply to find work, which is hard to come by in these towns.

This situation puts an incredible amount of pressure on all family members. Children are raised in single-parent households and often assume adult responsibilities from early on. The ones who are old enough to work in the fields help support the family financially. Those who cannot work often stay home to care for younger siblings or elderly grandparents. This results in broken families and children who drop out of school at a very young age.  Many will not make it to high school. The cycle repeats itself.

Let me go back to the dirt roads for a second. This is where the kids play. On the street. No sidewalks, no playgrounds, no parks. And little or no adult supervision. The idea of creating a safe space for the children to play and learn in the midst of such a demanding childhood became the basis for Walls that Unite. In partnership with Ojos de Agua, local and state government and the club that helped set up the service-learning project, we began to fundraise to help build a sports complex, playground, and picnic area.

Walls that Unite raised $100,000 and inaugurated the playground and picnic areas on May 1. On the same day we laid the first stone of the second phase of the project. There is still much to be done.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It’s been more of a roller coaster ride. The struggles have been many. Self-doubt has always lurked nearby. I question myself a lot about what I’m doing and whether I can pull it off. I also worry about effectively communicating and sharing my vision with others in a way that will make them believe in me and what Walls that Unite is trying to accomplish. I feel like I have become a sort of representative for the people we help and put a lot of pressure on myself because if I fail, I feel like I am letting them down.

Knowing who to ask for things or what doors to knock on was hard at first. You quickly grow a tougher skin and learn how to deal with the rejection so that you don’t take it personally. When you think of the positive impact you can have on others its easier swallow your pride and keep going.

One of the many things I have learned in this journey is that no one else is going to be as passionate as you are about your project. You will be turned down, feel frustrated and disappointed. Things won’t happen the way you envision them in the time you want. And that’s ok. These obstacles are part of the process of crafting a vision and fine-tuning your plan.

So, my advice is to take that first step, no matter how insurmountable it may seem, and surround yourself with people who will pull you out of that place of self-doubt when you’re in it. Promote yourself and talk about what you are working on. You’d be surprised at how infectious your passion can be. If you feel out of your comfort zone, you’re probably doing something right.

Please tell us about Walls that Unite.
Walls that Unite, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that has played an integral role in helping to bring people, clubs, organizations, local and state government in Mexico together to help communities in need.

All of us get our hands dirty. We regularly invite our donors to be directly involved with the people we serve. The backbone of the organization is rooted in university student volunteers from different disciplines who value the importance of giving back through service. Many continue to work with us after they graduate.

Since the moment we committed to helping the town improve their quality of life, Walls that Unite has become involved in other community outreach efforts. For the past two years, we have financially contributed to yearly school supply and blanket drives. Last year we began to facilitate free medical clinics where hundreds of people who cannot afford checkups and care can have access to local and U.S. healthcare professionals and free medicine. This year we started a winter campaign where we passed out more than 700 hundred sweaters to kids in vulnerable communities to help them brave the cold. Our art workshops are ongoing and focus on themes like education, community and the impact that children can have in their town. We often discuss the importance of giving back and making a difference.

Walls that Unite is fortunate to have amazing partners who have made incredible contributions. We also have a dedicated group of volunteers who are involved in every project and initiative we do. We believe in motivating children, fostering community, helping to create economic opportunities so that families can stay together, and building a future with creativity.

There’s a wealth of academic research that suggests that a lack of mentors and networking opportunities for women has materially affected the number of women in leadership roles. Smart organizations and industry leaders are working to change this, but in the meantime, do you have any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
Two years ago I organized a trip to Guanajuato and invited people who I thought would be interested in getting involved with Walls that Unite. I wanted them to see first-hand the beauty of the country and the impact that their involvement could have in Ojos de Agua and nearby towns. One of my mentors who is now a great friend came out of that trip. His insight, support and advice have been invaluable.

Some of the people I have networked with have nothing to do with the work I do. I have made it a point to talk with women who started their own non-profits and have been successful leaders. They have shared their stories and things that worked or didn’t work for them. Talk to people who have vision and who are dedicated to the work they do.  Most importantly, don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.

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Image Credit:
Diego Chavez

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