Bertha grew up in Toppenish in the Lower Yakima Valley, an agricultural region in central Washington State; her family has been in the region since the 1940’s when her father came as a migrant seasonal farmworker. Her extended family of siblings, nieces and nephews, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren fill positions throughout the central Washington region that include university and K-12 educators, and in myriad other fields. Throughout her long career in the Lower Yakima Valley of Washington State, she has focused on improving education and the quality of life in the Yakima Valley.
Ortega graduated from Toppenish High School. She holds a master’s degree in education from Fort Wright College and bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington. She was one of a handful of educational leaders instrumental in helping Dr. Kathleen Ross (recipient of a MacArthur award) to establish Heritage University in Toppenish. In the earliest years at Heritage, a new college designed to serve local Hispanic and Native adults who could not leave to attend college away from their homes and families, she and her colleagues did everything to build the institution, including painting her own office and laying her own carpet. Prior to that, she worked as an instructor for health and human services at Seattle Central Community College, was director of education transportation and an early childhood specialist for the Yakama Nation, and was the bilingual liaison for the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Ortega also has a long history of community service having served on boards and commissions including the Washington State Centennial Commission, Washington Association for Bilingual Education, Washington Commission on Hispanic Affairs, Commission Public Lands Advisory Committee, Eastern Washington University, American Red Cross – Yakima Chapter, Public Television KCTS/KYVE, United Way of Yakima and Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce. She currently serves on the board for Yakima Valley Museum and Toppenish Community Hospital.
Ortega was the first member of the Altera Board (previously called Northwest Learning and Achievement Group, NLA), joining in 2004. She has been instrumental in helping guide the young organization to serve the broad and significant needs of students and their families throughout rural Washington.
“When I grew up here, you could be a nurse of a teacher and that was it. Altera is offering these rural kids opportunities to choose careers that have never been available here in rural Washington. The resources that Altera brings are those not only to the students but also to the parents with booklets to educate themselves about new and different careers, in a program where parents feel comfortable and that adds value to the students and their families’ futures.”