The rat-a-tat clicking of her abuela Guadalupe’s treadle sewing machine was a reassuring and familiar sound when Rosie Portugal-Brastad was a child.
At 10 years old she took a seat next to her mother, Consuelo, and began learning a skill and hobby that would serve her throughout her life --- sewing and quilting.
Making good use of resources (such as creating her own patterns, recycling her mom’s old dresses and turning them into something new) helped create a mindset that she would use the rest of her life --- that transformation is always possible.
This became especially relevant when Rosie assumed her current role as the coordinator for Project Help.
Project Help, a program that is exclusive to Apache Junction Unified School District , provides families in need with help with financial assistance, food, new and gently-used clothing, and other items that are donated by corporations, churches and individuals.
The need for Project Help’s services is vast, but the recipients don’t get a free ride. Parents or legal guardians seeking assistance must meet guidelines including having children enrolled in AJUSD schools.
Recipients are encouraged to become self-sufficient and repay their loans through services to the community --- preferably at their child’s school.
The model of receiving a “leg up” instead of a “handout” was a model from Rosie’s own childhood.
Consuelo raised Rosie and her siblings on her own and supported the family by cleaning houses. Consuelo also worked in the school cafeteria so her children would receive free meals. Consuelo was forced to drop out of school in third grade because she was needed at home because her mother lost her vision. The family worked very hard, but education was a luxury that was out of reach for Consuelo.
Fortunately that was not the case for Rosie.
Rosie attended college and worked at her children’s school. It was a good fit for a young mom to work and have the same hours and days off as her sons. It also helped her balance her home life while her husband climbed the corporate ladder.
Rosie was hired by AJUSD in 2006 where she assisted the former Project Help coordinator Lailoni Capozzi-Corman.
Rosie remained in that position for a couple of years, and then left to work at Four Peaks Elementary School as a registrar and librarian.
During the course of her life she has been employed in a variety of jobs. She has worked as a switch board operator, principal’s secretary, secretary for the agriculture director, accounting department manager and even sewed for a designer who had a showroom in Atlanta, Georgia. She also volunteered for 35 years while raising her children. The common thread in all these other pursuits was helping and supporting others.
“I always focused on helping families in need,” said Rosie, who is bilingual in English and Spanish. “I learned that a lot of good can be achieved by helping a family. It has a ripple effect that reaches a lot farther than you would think.”
The common thread in all these other pursuits was helping and supporting others. In 2014 she returned to Project Help and has been at the helm of the facility since 2014. Except for a few volunteers, Rosie runs the daily operations and fundraising for Project Help single-handedly.
Rosie is a well-known figure in the community and many consider her a part of their extended family. But the energetic brunette has a family of her own. She has been married to her husband, Brian, for 42 years and has two sons, Bjorn and Brys, three grandsons and one granddaughter. Family traditions and skills, like sewing and quilting, are being passed down. Rosie and her son are currently working on a quilt for a new granddaughter.
Things have changed over time. Rosie now uses a sophisticated Bernia sewing machine instead of the pedal-pumping treadle she learned on.
But the art of helping others and encouraging self-sufficiency still creates the fabric that binds Rosie, Project Help, and the community AJUSD serves, into one.
Those interested in making donations or seeking services to Project Help can email email@example.com or call 480-288-2955.
Editor's note: Sally Marks is Apache Junction Unified School District's public information officer.