A Conversation with Ray, CHEER’s Operations Coordinator
I recently got in touch with Ray Nosbaum. He’s worked with CHEER for five years and has held multiple roles during that time. He currently serves as Operations Coordinator. Before retiring, he worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for more than two decades.
This interview has been edited lightly.
Would you tell us a little bit about the work you do with CHEER?
I began volunteering with CHEER in early 2017 as the Food Distribution Coordinator for the Long Branch Healthy Food Access Program (LBHFAP). Later, I began learning about nonprofit volunteer programs, which led to me becoming the Volunteer Program Coordinator. As CHEER’s internal needs expanded, I became the Operations Coordinator. When I return in July, I hope to be involved with the housing and community development team to address issues related to the new Long Branch Purple Line Station.
Why does this work interest you?
To start, I need to describe what I did before CHEER. I have been involved in social justice issues through St. Camillus and Takoma Park Presbyterian Churches. Then I began a microenterprise called MarVa Harvest, operating small local farmers markets.
For family reasons, I needed to discontinue. During that time, I worked a couple days on a farm and at its markets. When the LBHFAP began, CHEER’s Executive Director Bruce [Baker] asked if I would be the food distribution coordinator. I learn a lot from my interactions with folks at CHEER, it’s vision, mission and way of operating. This can be energizing.
My understanding is that you’re taking a break from CHEER until July. How will you be spending your time?
Yes, I already began my “sabbatical.” [My wife] Ruth and I are preparing to offer support to Frontera de Cristo at the U.S.-Mexico border at Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Mexico, known locally as Dougla-Prieta.
Afterwards, we will travel in Arizona and New Mexico. Ruth and I have wanted to travel the Southwest for a very long time. As part of our travels, we will participate in a bird festival. Additionally, I look forward to experiencing the incredible geological beauty and the wonders of the cliff dwellings and petroglyphs left by previous indigenous peoples.
How did you first learn about Dougla-Prieta? Why have you chosen to spend your time and energy there?
My knowledge of Dougla-Prieta began when Ruth went as an accompanier in April 2019 at the request of partners of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF) because they were experiencing threats from cartels in Agua Prieta who wanted to extort migrants. The accompaniment program is part of PPF and actually began in Colombia to support faith-based organizations threatened by paramilitaries. Ruth went to Colombia three times. Ruth and I were ready to go to Dougla-Prieta in May 2020 – then came the COVID pandemic and the border was closed.
In the first six weeks of this year, about 7,000 migrants have been assisted at the migrant center in Agua Prieta, as U.S. officials return people who have attempted to cross the border. There will be many people needing food, first aid for injured feet from walking many desert miles, soap and a towel to take a shower, and help contacting family members. Some migrants can get help trying to contact family members in the U.S.
You previously had a long career with the Department of Agriculture. How have your experiences in government informed your volunteer work?
Actually, Bruce asked me to come to CHEER because of my experience operating the MarVa Harvest farmers markets. Bruce was a weekly customer at one of the markets. In my role as Volunteer Program Coordinator and Operations Coordinator, I have used my previous experience in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where I had worked in Human Resources, as a Program Manager, an internal process improvement consultant, and a supervisor. Mary Jacksteit, CHEER’s Board of Director’s President, and I worked closely together in drafting the new CHEER HR policy. Definitely, my career helped me to do this.
When in Dougla-Prieta, Ruth and I will do whatever Frontera de Cristo requests as that is the way accompaniment works. This is similar to how CHEER operates – engage with the community as community members define the issues and potential responses.
There is a women’s cooperative called DouglaPrieta Works, which among other things tends a permaculture garden. I hope to visit it, talk about the Long Branch Gardeners, and learn a few things to bring back to the Long Branch Gardeners.
Many people in our Long Branch/Takoma Park community are immigrants who may or may not feel at home here as they may have felt forced to leave their homes because of near impossible situations. The longer they are here they may feel more at home. In the Americas, I believe U.S. colonialism and extractive economic policies led to people leaving their homes. I hope I will learn from the stories I will hear to better understand migrants and my neighbors who are immigrants.
When I return, I hope to share my experiences with the CHEER community.