Interns Make Impact
“They’re always smiling. They’re so sweet and positive,” Megan said. “I want them to know they can achieve anything they want. I want them to know how important they are.”
Many of the students are children of immigrants some with legal status and some applying for asylum to remain in the United States. Vacaciones Útiles is a summer day camp for children entering prekindergarten to the second grade. Students receive bilingual instruction in core academic subjects, socialization skills and enrichment activities.
One of Megan’s students migrated from Mexico one month ago. She cried inconsolably the first week at Vacaciones Útiles because she had never been away from her mother. But little by little she’s adjusted to the school-like setting.
“I just picked her up and she stayed in my arms. Then our volunteers would take turns consoling her until she felt comfortable enough to sit at the desk with other students,” Megan said. “Now she’s the first one to sit down and has the biggest smile.”
Megan is studying Social Work and Spanish at Xavier University. She enjoys testing her Spanish skills with her students and is learning a great deal from them. Jasmine, another intern entering her Junior year at Mount St. Joseph University, is glad to be with Vacaciones Útiles again this summer.
“I volunteered with Su Casa when I was in middle school and interned with Vacaciones Útiles last summer supporting the program manager. Now I work more closely with the students. It’s great,” Jasmine said.
Welcoming Hurricane Survivors
Robert and Eileen rode out Hurricane Maria in his mother’s home in Isla Verde, Puerto Rico. Now, Su Casa his enabling them to rebuild a new life here.
“This has been the worst hurricane we have ever experienced,” Robert said. Hurricane Maria cut through the heart of the island, claiming 58 lives and knocking out 90 percent of the power lines. “It was quite critical. Once the hurricane passed, driving on the roads was difficult and getting gasoline almost impossible. We waited eight hours.”
Robert had to get back to work right away to secure the Ford dealership where he works as a sales representative. His wife was unable to return to her work because of the hurricane. He worried for Eileen’s safety with the contaminated water and increase in disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Their daughter, Nicole, called from Cincinnati where she works at a law firm.
“It’s been difficult but I had to make decisions. It would be better for my wife to be with our daughter,” Robert said. So Eileen packed up what she could after the hurricane struck and slept on the floor of the airport with her husband for three days waiting for a plane to leave the island.
Once in Cincinnati, Eileen turned to Su Casa. Su Casa assisted Eileen with emergency services and obtaining an Ohio Driver’s License. Now, Su Casa is guiding her through the job hunting process. Once she’s working, Su Casa will work with her to find permanent housing.
Robert is still living and working in Puerto Rico, but he flew to Cincinnati to spend the Christmas holiday with his wife and daughter.
“Su Casa has really helped us out,” Robert said. “Helping people when they arrive over here is really great. It’s like walking into open arms because they understand you went through a bad situation. That’s all we need. Just knowing people care and want to help makes a big difference. She’s just trying to find a job now. We both need to work.”
Ready for Pre-School
The three-year-old arrived crying on the first day of the summer enrichment program. He clutched his toy dinosaurs and milk bottle. The youngest child of the family, Julio wailed as his parents left him alone for the first time. His sobbing and tantrums continued the first week as his parents left him to go to work.
His teach coached Julio on how to play with children his own age as his next closest sibling was 13 years older. He learned how to share and to speak English with others.
By the time Vacaciones Útiles ended, Julio was kissing his mother goodbye each morning before rushing off to say hello to his teacher and join his new friends. He made lots of friends, offers toys to others and leads games. His teacher is confident he will be successful in next classroom environment.
How a Boy Found His Voice
When Adair started attending Su Casa’s enrichment day camp, Vacaciones Útiles, at the start of the summer, he didn’t speak. His mother explained that he was selectively mute, often not speaking to her in public or anyone else.
Adair rarely smiled or laughed. He hung back from the other students. His teacher noticed that he barely ate and gagged at vegetables and fruit.
With the support of his teacher and other students, Adair changed within a few weeks. He smiles, laughs, runs and plays with his classmates. He speaks up and joins other students as they recite the alphabet or the name the planets.
The first time he spoke to his teacher, he asked her if he could play with a puzzle. She nearly cried.
His teacher even coaxed Adair to try broccoli for the first time. His classmates cheered.
“His classmates have rallied around him. They sign to him or speak Spanish, or use one or two English words,” his teacher said. “One classmate, Samantha, told me that, ‘When we cheer for Adair at tennis, he feels proud of himself.’ I am so proud of how this class has come together to support one another and look out for one another.”
Adair and his classmates will be ready to be more successful academically when they return to school but also more successful as caring young people.
How Su Casa Welcomes New Arrivals
A dental hygienist desperate to flee Venezuela with her small son, Candace first sought assistance from Su Casa to find stable housing, enroll her son in school and secure a work permit. The newly formed Su Casa Hispanic Center’s Emergency Assistance became a lifeline for the young mother.
“Su Casa helped me put a stable roof over my son’s head, find affordable medical services which is always important for a single mother. They helped me find a school for my son and get supplies,” Candace said. “It feels like a family. I have friends here. They’re all here to help me. I feel like the name says – it’s my house.”
With Candace’s immigration status almost straightened out, she’s a grateful for the support of the Immigration Services and Emergency Services teams. Yet she admits it was hard seeking assistance in the beginning because as a professional in Venezuela she was used to doing things for herself. Now, through the welcoming support of Catholic Charities and Su Casa, Candace is established in her new home, confident in her ability to take care of her son and be successful in the United States.
Peace of Mind
Maria is grateful for Su Casa for providing her with an opportunity to receive her first mammogram at a health fair last year. Her visit led to a biopsy in February, and she’s relieved she’s cancer free.
However, as she received this great news, her cousin died of breast cancer. Her cousin lacked access to regular mammograms. Maria didn’t have the money to pay for a mammogram.
So now Maria is a vocal proponent of Su Casa’s mammography program and shares her story at her church. Nearly a dozen women responded seeking information.
Su Casa Hispanic Center provides free mammograms every month. To schedule an appointment, call Mariela Baltonado Murillo 513-672-3783. The next mammograms will be from 9 am to 3 pm, April 6 outside the Su Casa Hispanic Center at Midpoint Tower in Roselawn.
Ever and Margarita prayed that one day they’d own a home for their seven children to build memories versus renting the roof over their heads.
A Su Casa caseworker referred the family to Price Hill Will, which is testing a new homesteading program.
The homesteading program assists working families that don’t qualify for a typical mortgage on the path to home ownership. Partnering with Catholic Charities, Working in Neighborhoods and Santa Maria, Price Hill Will placed two families into homes so far. The homesteading program identifies abandoned homes that are in good condition, rehabs the houses and then prepares families for ownership via classes. It’s important for the families to understand the expectations and requirements.
The new homeowners are expected to care for the house by painting, routine maintenance and cutting the grass.
Now Ever and Margarita’s children have plenty of room to play in a green backyard and space to live comfortably. Ever said, “God has answered our prayers.”
English Opens Doors
More than 200 adults received educational training from Su Casa last year as a way to improve their English, earn GED and advance in careers. Angelica, Ernesto and Deni are just a handful that benefited from the classes.
“I do everything for my kids,” Angelica said of the reason she returned to Su Casa to study English. She wants to be able to help her young boys in school. “I want to try to help them and I want more opportunities.”
Angelica, 30, is originally from Mexico. She moved to Cincinnati about 15 years ago and works. But she realizes that she needs to improve her English to get better jobs.
Ernesto who is also 30 is from Guatemala. He came to the United States16 years ago when he was 15. . His father had passed away and his mother wanted him to earn money for the family.
“That’s why I’m here,” Ernesto said, “to help my mother.”
He now works as a machine operator in construction. He’s able to make a decent amount of money to live on and also send home to his family. He is able to hold a conversation in English, which he has just picked up from living in the United States. He hopes to be able to speak better through taking English classes at Su Casa.
Deni, also from Guatemala, has been living in the United States for 12 years. She originally came to help earn money for her family’s business back in Guatemala. Now, her biggest goal is to learn to read and write in English.
“I understand a little more, but I want to learn to read and write in English and to understand the grammar,” Deni said.
She spends her days working for a solar panel company. After work, she comes to Su Casa for English classes. She hardly ever misses a class.
Deni said that learning English is opening doors for her. In the future, she would like to travel and do mission work. She is also interested in becoming a dietician.
The Su Casa Hispanic Center, a program of Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio, serves the Hispanic/Latino individuals who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Some undertake the dangerous journey to migrate to the U.S. in search of a better future, while some have resided in the U.S. for many years. For more information or to volunteer, visit Su Casa. To donate visit www.ccswoh.org/donate.
Su Casa Showers New Moms with Love
Twenty-five expectant mothers benefited from the Su Casa Community Baby Shower earlier this month. These young mothers received essential items to welcome their newborns from receiving blankets and bibs, to bottles and diapers. The Bon Bonerie provided fine pastries and cakes for the festive occasion.
This event was made possible through the generosity of individual and corporate donors: Healthy Moms and Babes, UC Breast and Cervical Cancer Project, UC Health Barrett Center, Paramount, Tri-Health Hispanic Ministries, Cradle Cincinnati, CareSource, P&G, Molina Health Care, Tortilleria Garcia, La Mega 97.7, Luna Balloons, Matthew Show’s Infantil, Cross Roads Clinic, Prevent Blindness Ohio and CincySmiles. Also, the following health care agencies provided important information to the expectant mothers: WIC, Help Me Grow, Healthy Start, Cradle Cincinnati, Healthy Moms and Babes, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Health Care Access Now, Santa Maria, The Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati, YWCA, Every Child Succeeds, ProKids and the Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities.
Young Mothers Flee Violence
Fear kept her running. She had to keep running to live. She had to keep running to protect her daughter.
Fabiola graduated from high school and was working as a firefighter in a small village in Honduras. The 21-year-old mother grew up in an abusive household and witnessed the gang violence that controls much of Honduras today.
Then one evening she returned home to find a note written in blood by one of the major gangs. The note said they would be back to kill her family. In the middle of the night, keeping their promise, assassins returned. Fabiola, her husband and baby escaped with the clothes on their backs.
Never had she thought of living anywhere else. Now, all of a sudden, she was running. When they reached the border between Honduras and Guatemala, they met a “coyote” who promised to assist them in crossing the border into the United States. They eventually boarded a bus that stopped at Mexico. But when they tried to cross the river, men with knives began asking for money. One man refused to give away his meager belongings. He was killed.
By the time they made it to Tuxtlan, the coyotes loaded Fabiola and her family with about 48 other people into a white semi-trailer. They remained there for two days. One woman died in the stifling conditions. They arrived in Mexico City where they were taken to an elegant home where they were held for ransom. Their relatives back home were given five days to pay or else. Fabiola saw another mother beaten and then taken away with her two children. Later she was told the family had been killed.
The next day, Fabiola, her one-year-old daughter and several other women were taken by a small truck to a river that they were told to cross. The children were placed on raft. It was dark. She and her daughter made it across. She carried her daughter, walking in the dark with the other women, until men suddenly appeared and threw them to the ground. She thought this was the end of her journey. She had heard stories about child trafficking and feared she would be killed and her daughter stolen from her.
So she got up and began fighting. Other women stood up and fought back as well. The children cried and shouted. The noise caught the attention of immigration officials. As soon as the immigration car arrived, everyone ran in different directions.
Fabiola ran as fast as she could. She hid in the hills for nearly two hours. As I got later, it got colder. Her daughter was already sick, so she began looking for a road. That’s when she was spotted by immigration officials.
Now, Fabiola is tired of running. She’s seeking asylum. She wears an ankle monitor so immigration can follow her movement. Once she’s interviewed by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in Chicago, she will be eligible to apply for a one-year work permit while her case is reviewed.
She feels safe in Cincinnati and happy to be free of the fear that forced her to free. Now she has time to dream of a new life where she can resume her studies, become a doctor and her daughter will go to school capable of being whatever she chooses.
Through your support, Catholic Charities is assisting Fabiola and about more 50 young mothers who have fled violence and severe poverty in Central America over the past year. Donations for beds and school supplies are greatly appreciated.
A Gift from God
The first time Ever laid eyes on his 9-year-old son, Yifrey, he said it was like “a gift from God.”
His son fled Guatemala with his 11-year-old sister, Lindy, after their grandmother who cared for them fell ill. Ever knew it would be a dangerous trip for his children to make alone. Now, he’s overjoyed to have his family together under one roof again.
Ever is a hardworking father who found it difficult to earn enough money to care for his wife and children in Guatemala. So 10 years ago he struck out for the United States in the hopes of more opportunities to make a decent wage. He found plenty of work in restaurants in the Greater Cincinnati area and sent money back to his family in Guatemala often.
After two years, his wife joined him to find work here, too. She left their children in the care of his parents. They worked and called their children often. But as their children grew older, their questions became tougher to answer.
“Why did you leave us?”
The father explained the dire poverty in their village, the lack of work and his desperation to provide for them. Yet, his children didn’t understand. Parentless children often are bullied in their village. They missed their mother and father.
All of Ever’s friends cautioned him against bringing his children to America because of the dangers they could encounter on the journey. Then, his mother’s health declined. She told Ever she could no longer take care of her grandchildren. It was time for Yifrey and Lindy to join Ever and his wife.
The two children set off by themselves but were later befriended by an older woman with young children planning to cross “the frontier” as well. She looked after them. But when they reached the Rio Grande, the children encountered their greatest fear. Lindy and Yifrey were terrified of crossing the water, afraid that they’d be swept away. Fortunately, they found a shallow area to wade across.
Immediately, the two children were picked up by immigration, separated and held for one month while their father was cleared as their sponsor.
While an Immigration Court judge in Louisville, Kentucky found no reason to deport the children, Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio assisted the family in finding an attorney to ensure children have the appropriate asylum status to remain with their family here.
“I’m so very happy to have my children with us again. I never thought this would happen. I see it as gift from God,” Ever said.
Paving Path to Simple Dreams
Almost every day that Su Casa offers English classes, you will find Armando seated in the front row.
His motivation for studying so hard is simple. He works with English and Spanish-speakers in a kitchen and wants to improve his communication with English-speaking co-workers.
“I need to communicate with the chefs,” Armando, from Puebla, Mexico, said. “I want to communicate things about myself.”
Part of his desire to express himself more clearly is to pursue his dream to become a chef or a kitchen manager himself one day. Mastering English is essential for him to achieve his long-term ambitions. His supervisor advised him that he must improve his English first.
So Armando is studying upper-intermediate and advanced English at Su Casa after practicing with computer programs like Rosetta Stone.
But he has already learned as much as he can from the computer. He also tried practicing English with English-speaking friends and coworkers, but sometimes felt that they were speaking too fast for him to learn effectively.
His uncle had taken GED classes at Su Casa in the past, and “encouraged” Armando to try Su Casa’s program. In the fall of 2014 Armando signed up for ESL level 3, and he has been one of its most faithful attendants ever since. It proved to be an excellent match.
“I feel I can come here and be more comfortable with my teachers,” he said. “I think this is a good place to learn English.”
Armando added that he’s grateful for Su Casa’s volunteers and staff. He encouraged others interested in improving their English to give Su Casa’s program a try, as well. He added, “If people want to learn English, come study some English with us.”
Health Fair Reaches Growing Community
About 350 people received free health screenings at Su Casa’s biggest health fair in June, underscoring the need for easy-to-access health care in the Hispanic/Latino immigrant community.
“The health care hurdle is high for many immigrants who find getting appropriate care difficult due to language, literacy and a lack of knowledge,” Giovanna Alvarez, director of Su Casa said. “This event gets them over these barriers as we advocate for culturally and linguistically competent community care.”
Health care providers performed:
- 101 dental exams
- 78 glucose screenings; 20 found to be pre-diabetic, 2 newly diagnosed
- 68 blood pressure tests
- 30 mammograms
- 15 anxiety and depression screenings
- 12 prostate exams
- and referred about 25 people follow up testing due to screening results
About a dozen health care providers served the community through free mammograms, prostrate screenings, glucose and blood pressure tests and dental checks along with other services. The event was made possible through the support of the following partners: LULAC, Cricket, P&G, Home Depot, Kroger, Ethicon, Cincinnati Reds, Tortilleria Garcia, Susan G. Komen, St. Elizabeth Health Care, CG Dental Care, Universal Health Care Action Network Ohio, Mercy Health, The Healthcare Connection, SMART Recovery, Cincinnati Free Store Food Bank, El Valle Verde Super Market, Dr. Isabel Kohn, Robert Tamm and Sofi Ensalaco.
“The Health Fair has benefited many over the years even detecting some life-threatening conditions,” Alvarez explained.
To get involved in Su Casa, visit https://ccswoh.org/services/sucasa/get-involved/.
An Unexpected Lesson
Teen volunteer Andrew Bueno shares what he’s learned serving
Su Casa Hispanic Center stands unimposing in a quiet residential neighborhood, with light blue windows and a facade of graying bricks. Inside, faded posters on cracked plaster display the food pyramid and urge you, in Spanish, to please visit the doctor regularly. Su Casa’s modest appearance is misleading; it is in this place that a vibrant community of immigrants gathers and connects, and it is here that I experienced something that fundamentally changed my perspective.
I began tutoring at Su Casa after school because it was a good opportunity to practice my Spanish. As the son of immigrants from Venezuela, I felt drawn to Su Casa not because of the strong bonds of common experience but because of a superficial, subtle feeling of kinship. Every week for about an hour, I would help the kids in the afterschool program with homework. The kids were quick learners and sought help from each other before they came to me. It was a fun, easy job. And then I met Antony.
Antony stood out as the only quiet kid in a group of boisterous attention seekers. He spoke in Spanish while older kids like him generally spoke English, relapsing into their mother tongue only to insult each other.
Antony came to me because he had trouble answering questions from a reading comprehension worksheet. At first I thought he was joking, but I saw that Antony struggled on the brink of illiteracy. He was unable to add, subtract or even understand anything not read aloud in Spanish. Yet his determination was unmistakable. Working with Antony was an intense experience: his dark eyes would race back and forth across a page, showing confusion and inspiration and confusion again. Each time he finished a difficult problem or sentence; he would put his pencil down and give me a victorious high five.
Shortly after I met him, I started asking about his personal life. He said he was from Mexico, so I asked him how long he had been here. “Tres semanas,” he responded. Three weeks. It was utterly incredible, yet it made complete sense. I was deeply shaken by the sudden collapse of my preconceived notions of Antony’s daily experience. Joining a new school in the middle of the year is bad enough, but I could not begin to imagine doing it while being immersed in a completely foreign language and culture. After regaining my composure, I asked what he thought of America. His eyes lit up, and he talked about how here the teacher actually shows up to class unlike in his hometown. He’d already made some friends at his new school, but said it had been hard to leave his friends and family behind.
What Antony did was provide me with a human perspective on an issue that is becoming increasingly important: immigration. Because of my family background, immigration is a crucial part of my heritage, yet even I was sorely out of touch until Antony gave me a name and a face to associate with this issue. As the world becomes ever more connected and people continue to flock to America, it’s important to look at immigration with a human-centered perspective. Antony is only one among millions of eager, hard-working immigrants, yet it is his story that has become an integral part of me. In every news bulletin, chart, and graph about immigration, I see Antony with his work ethic, his determination, his dark brown eyes, and his round face.
Su Casa Hispanic Center continues to offer piano lessons, basketball and health fairs in the San Carlos Community. Its new offices and classrooms are at the Mid-Pointe Tower, Suite 610, 7162 Reading Road, Roselawn.
Helping Juan Start Over
Computer classes & English as a Second Language (ESL) classes are two of the great services provided by Su Casa.
Their impact is felt in the lives of those served by the Center; those like Juan.
Juan came from the immense poverty of Guatemala with his family to seek a better life in the U.S. Now in the U.S., Juan is working hard to have his family integrate into the community and comes to Su Casa for assistance.
He brings his wife and two children to computer classes on Saturdays at Su Casa Hispanic Center. He expressed that, in Guatemala, many people cannot sign their own name, let alone use the computer. Instead of using a personal signature on official
documents, Guatemalan citizens are allowed to use their thumbprint.
While he is amazed at his children’s ability, Juan says it is difficult for him to use the computer because he never had access to a computer in Guatemala. He is extremely grateful for Su Casa’s educational services. With Su Casa’s outstanding computer instructors, he is confident that he will gain proficiency with computer technology.
Juan also attends the ESL Class held on Saturday mornings. Students from local high schools provide child care for his two children so he can learn English on his day off from work. He has a great desire to learn English and attends class after working the whole week in construction. He stays all day for educational services. Su Casa also has a teacher for a language exchange class, and Juan can practice the English he learns in class almost immediately after.
Juan’s family is one of the thousands that are helped by Su Casa every year. Through vital services, Latino immigrants become a integral part of Cincinnati.
The Summer is for Kids
A daily routine is often a full time job for some families in the Cincinnati area. The challenge to maintain a decent wage, prepare healthy meals and maintain overall health in a clean environment can be a daunting task. Performing these tasks with-out the basic skills or education back-ground can be a disadvantage in and of itself.
Su Casa’s Summer Program helps the younger generation who are impacted by these challenges.
Su Casa’s Vacaciones Útiles is a free summer program for Hispanic/Latino children ranging in age from three to eight years old who are served by loving staff and volunteers, The program is sponsored by Procter and Gamble, Whole Again International, The College of Mount Saint Joseph, The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish and Bucknell University. The program is intended as a ‘catch up’ for children during the summer so they are ready for the next school year and to prepare those who may be getting ready to enroll in school for the first time.
“Many of our pre-kindergarten children have limited English speaking skills or have not been exposed to a structured environment,” explained Laura Brinson, education and health promotion specialist. “There are times when the parents do not know English or know how to read or write. Many of them have had to drop out of school and are not able to teach their own children how to read or write. We try to be advocates of their child’s education so in the 10 weeks their child is with us, we are able to provide full meals, instill rules, expose them to social settings, teach them basic reading and writing, manners as well good healthy habits. We are able to do this with the loving support of all of our staff and volunteers.”
Qualified teachers, high school students, college students and other adults offer their time and talents to voluntarily work with children who are at a very young age. They serve meals and teach lessons such as washing hands, basic nutrition and manners to an eager audience. These are lessons that they hope will carry over to the home environment. However, it’s not all hard work at Vacaciones Útiles. There is some fun!
Special field trips or presentations from local organizations such as the American Red Cross or the Hamilton County Park District help add to the learning environment.
“We’ve had naturalists bring in a barred owl and other creatures for the children to look at. We’ve been to Caldwell Park for a nature hike, been to Coney Island for Paddlefest and experienced some fun activities at the Museum Center,” she said.
In a few short weeks, the bells will ring in another school year. While Su Casa maintains a tutoring program to help support the academic needs of the Hispanic population, what does the future hold for Vacaciones Útiles? Brinson would like to see additional classrooms to reach older children in the third to fifth grades and continue to build on the foundation started with the younger children. Of course, she added, volunteers are always needed.
“It’s amazing what we are able to do with the younger children, the influence we have on them with the wealth of resources and volunteer support available,” she said. “It would be great to imagine how much more we could do for them in the future.”