Rosa McGaughey

Giving back to the community what’s been given, whether it’s food or a listening ear

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Susan France

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Growing up in a small town in Mexico with eight siblings, Rosa McGaughey was always lending a hand. Whether it was helping in the house or around town, she grew up with the mentality of what comes around goes around.

“If you don’t contribute to the community, how can you expect the community to help you when you need it?” McGaughey says. “You have to be involved so your voice can be heard.”

She’s been getting involved throughout Longmont for the past 20 years. She spreads her time between the schools of her three daughters and the YMCA, doing various things like this past holiday season collecting toys for underprivileged kids and even playing Mrs. Claus. McGaughey also spends time volunteering at El Comité de Longmont, a non-profit aiding the Latino community in Boulder County. She uses her skills in anyway she can, whether it’s answering phones, making copies, cooking, doing paperwork or sitting with a family during an emotional time.

She grew up in a small town outside of Jalisco, Mexico, the seventh child out of nine — lucky number seven she says. She spent her childhood playing with her siblings and the neighborhood kids, climbing trees and playing marbles. On their land, her family grew their own food and raised animals like goats and chickens. Due to low funds, McGaughey was only able to go to school until sixth grade. But despite her lack of formal education, McGaughey says she learned from doing.

“The experience I have and the knowledge I learned from other people is more valuable now to me than going to school,” she says. “When you look back you realize the amount of things you learned. It’s amazing. … Books give you knowledge but they don’t give you experience.”

As she grew up, she did odd jobs around her town including working in kitchens and cleaning hotel pools. She was also the medical assistant for the town doctor, where she learned several handy skills including how to suture, give injections and put in an IV. The doctor worked for free and depended on the generosity from the patrons who made small donations and brought food. That’s how it worked, McGaughey says. Townspeople couldn’t pay, so they helped where they could.

McGaughey met her husband when he came to visit her small town. He was a handsome gringo boy with blue eyes, she says. The two married in 1992, despite neither knowing the other’s language, and she came to Longmont a year later.

It was El Comité that helped McGaughey with the immigration process and provided her the tools to acclimate to her new home. So now, McGaughey says she wants to return the favor.

“I want to help other people because when I got here someone gave me a hand to guide me to where to go and what I had to do,” she says. “I want people to come here and feel the same comfort that I had when I needed help.”

A lot of what McGaughey’s volunteer work is giving people emotional support. She spent 14 years taking care of her mother-in-law, and now she helps out with her mother-in-law’s elderly friends. She drives them to appointments and assists anywhere she can, even if it’s just to lend an ear. Anything to give a little relief, she says. Sometimes people just need someone to listen. It gives her perspective on her attitude.

“You have to feel positive most of the time to get things done,” she says. “A negative response is not going to help anyone. You have to have a good disposition and good motivation, and from there, just see what comes.”

The desire to give back is ingrained in the Latino community, she says. Since coming to Longmont, she’s seen the Latino population boom with several new businesses and a tight-knit group that gets together to celebrate events like Cinco de Mayo. This is a stark contrast to what she saw when she first got here. There was not a lot of people or a lot of resources.

“There wasn’t even a tortilla place back then,” she says. “You had to get them at King Soopers, and they tasted terrible. So, I made my own.”

But McGaughey didn’t just stop at tortillas. In Mexico, she says she was used to cooking everything fresh, so that’s what she did. Over the years, McGaughey aggregated her neighbors’ backyards into one big space where she could grow potatoes, onions, tomatoes, peppers and chilies. She also raises chickens and bees, and she makes her own wine. In exchange for less backyard space, McGaughey’s neighbors get fresh eggs, honey and tomatoes — anything they need, she says.

“I keep my neighbors happy,” she says with a laugh. “It’s important to know your neighbors.”

Another benefit is that now the neighborhood children play together. Despite being far from Mexico, McGaughey is able to offer her kids similar aspects she grew up with. But she’s not stopping at her just kids. McGaughey is also spreading her gardening knowledge. At the YMCA she oversees a garden and teaches kids how to grow vegetables.

“I want the kids to have connection to their food,” she says. “The food is not from the store; that’s what kids think. Everybody’s so busy with things like computers, they don’t have a connection to the dirt.”

And it’s that connection that McGaughey strives for throughout the community. And helping out is an important piece of the puzzle. While others may disagree with her, McGaughey says she’s probably selfish. She calls the appreciation she gets vitamins for her soul.

“I have to be good to others to make myself feel good. I guess that’s just my nature,” she says. “When you do something good for somebody else and make them feel good, that’s the satisfaction you get. It’s a reward to yourself. It doesn’t matter if they pay you or don’t pay you. If you feel appreciated, that’s the most rewarding thing.”

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