Maria Romero pictured in her office at the Oregon Law Center, where she's worked as a paralegal for nearly 40 years. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

ONTARIO – As a young girl growing up in Ontario, Maria Romero was so shy that she would hide behind a dinner plate when someone tried to talk to her at the table.

But today, Romero’s work as a paralegal at the Oregon Law Center since 1980 – and her deep ties to the community – allow her to speak on behalf of countless in the city.

“I can be a voice, and I have that trust,” Romero said, trailing off as if to indicate “why not?”

At her day job, she is a paralegal at a nonprofit law office that provides free legal help on civil matters to people who are struggling to make ends meet and would otherwise not receive legal assistance. 

Beyond that she sits on several community boards. She sees all the work she does as interconnected.

Take for instance her work with Project DOVE, a nonprofit that helps victims of domestic violence.

“When I think of domestic violence, I don’t just think of the victim,” Romero said. “I think of the whole family.”

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As a board member for the city’s Diversity Advisory Committee, she’s a strong believer in the importance of engaging everyone in the community.

“The committee advocates for people who often feel they can’t voice their opinions at city council meetings,” Romero said.

She recalled a local food truck selling Mexican food that was threatened with closure after a resident complained about the smell. The food truck owners reached out to Romero for help. She and other community members were able to advocate on their behalf so that they could stay in business.

She also runs her own business, Romero Solutions, offering translation services to help community members get past barriers that hold them back.

Since 2018, Romero has helped Renee Cummings of the Four Rivers Welcome Center to put on free citizenship classes in Ontario. The classes run once a week for 10 weeks at the Ontario Public Library.

Through her work – along with her love of going out into the community and saying hi to just about anyone – Romero has gotten to know many people.

Members of her family, which includes her husband, three children and 10 grandchildren, sometimes dread going to the store with her because she gets stopped so often to talk.

In her office, the walls and tables display gifts from grateful clients. There’s a tapestry from Guatemala, a tea set from Iraq, and on the table in front of her, a small tray of Ferrero Rocher chocolates – a recent gift from a woman who just received her legal status.

She recalls many stories that have moved her over the years.

Like the young couple she helped after they arrived at their home one winter with a newborn baby, only to discover that their utilities had been cut off with no prior warning by a neglectful landlord.

She said one of her biggest joys is helping clients overcome barriers and watching them achieve their dreams – such as finally owning their own home or becoming a U.S. citizen.

“My grand satisfaction is seeing their faces of relief and happiness knowing they have moved forward,” Romero said.

With her career spanning 40 years, she’s just now thinking about hanging up her hat. However, she said, even if she does retire, it won’t stop her from continuing to lend a hand.

“Those are my plans,” she said, “to help in any way that I can.”

Have a news tip? Reporter Yadira Lopez: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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