Unsung Heroes: Rhiana Medina
(Moab Times-Independent)- When Rhiana Medina started volunteering for the Moab Valley Multicultural Center five years ago there were three people on staff, and they were all part-time employees.
“The center wasn’t open all week long because they didn’t have the staffing,” said Medina, who is now the center’s executive director. “I’d tell people that I volunteered, and people didn’t know what it was.”
Medina first started spending time at the MVMC as a volunteer in 2010. She was in college, pursuing a degree in adult education.
“This was the perfect opportunity to put what I was learning into action,” she said.
At the time, Medina took on three mentees through an MVMC program that paired adults with high-risk teenagers. The experience had a lasting impact for Medina, and five years later, she’s still in touch with all three of her mentees.
Unfortunately, many people in the community were and still are unaware of the center and what it has to offer.
Over the last five years, the center has grown significantly, increasing not only the number of staff members, but also the services that are offered to the community.
“It’s fantastic that it’s grown the way that it has,” Medina said. “The community is starting to realize what our clients have known all along.”
In addition to offering help to people in crisis, the MVMC strives to support the entire family.
“We help people with English classes and life classes,” Medina said. “The kids we work with learn to give back and be good citizens.”
Many of the kids the center worked with when it first started eight years ago are now teenagers or young adults, Medina said.
“We’ve been able to support them through different life stages,” she said. “This is a place they can turn to when they’re in need.”
Medina said the MVMC has made an effort to be more visible in the community, hosting popular events such as Dancing with the Moab Stars, which had to be moved to Grand County High School this year after selling out Star Hall last year, and the center’s annual Day of the Dead celebration.
Medina said most people recognize Day of the Dead, which is celebrated on Nov. 1, for the colorful skulls and as a remembrance holiday, similar to Memorial Day.
“It’s more than that,” she said. “It’s a holiday with a lot of indigenous background celebrating nature, and the circle of life.”
According to Medina, the holiday centers on the belief that people who have died will come back to visit their loved ones one day each year. As part of the local celebration, MVMC helps people build traditional altars to their lost loved ones, including pets, and there is no fee for the event.
Last year, Medina and the MVMC were handpicked by Grand County School District Superintendent Scott Crane and the Grand County Board of Education to serve as liaisons for UPSTART, an online preschool program being offered free of charge to children preparing to enter kindergarten.
“Because of our outreach with families and speakers of other languages, it was a natural fit,” Medina said.
The center worked closely with families involved in the program to ensure they were benefiting from the software.
“We’re in our second year of a four-year contract right now,” Medina said.
Though the MVMC is Medina’s main focus currently, she’s also been involved with several other local organizations in the past. She’s a member of the Local Interagency Council, which is a group that meets monthly to help professionals share services. She has also been regularly involved with the BEACON After School program, and the Moab Music Festival.