Meet the members of our 2013/2014 AmeriCorps team
The 35 individuals who make up our current team bring a wide range of interests and skills to their work at early childhood settings, libraries, pediatric clinics, and offices at WIC and Ready to Learn. Over the course of the coming year, AmeriCorps members Pawan Pandey, Hannah McConnell and Dioni Cruz will help us appreciate the many dimensions of their colleagues through this series of profiles of first-year members. Profiles on returning members can be found here. To see a full list of this year’s members and their assignments, click here.
“I was born in Cali, Colombia,” says Leonela Garcia. “I really like my country’s food and I really miss its cuisine, my family and my friends. Cali, the city where I was born, is one of the liveliest in my country. There, people dance salsa a lot and I always love dancing salsa. When December arrives, I really miss the famous ‘Feria de Cali,’ with its illuminated streets, and the contagious happiness there. Because of this, people say ‘Cali is the subsidiary of heaven.’ I love my country, its culture, and now that I’m outside of my country, I still try to follow its traditions.
“I arrived in Rhode Island 22 years ago with my five-year-old son. My daughter Lilibeth was born here. Here I really enjoy spending my free time with my children, my husband and his family, and our friends. I like reading, dancing, watching some television programs, and walking with my dog.
“What brought me to the AmeriCorps program was its interest in the education and health of children and the diverse trainings that it offers. I heard about the program through a friend who did AmeriCorps.
“I am interested in everything related to health, and Central Falls WIC touched me. As an AmeriCorps volunteer, I weigh and measure babies, children and adults, and I take blood samples from the fingers of children and pregnant mothers. We need to check the iron levels of pregnant mothers and pass all of this information on to the nutritionists. I also file, make copies and make confirmation calls.
“I like serving at this site a lot because it has helped me gain more experience than I already had from my medical assistant course at Rhode Island College.
“Here in WIC I find a lot of support. My coworkers and the nutritionists are very special. They make me feel like I am part of a good team and I learned a lot by sharing with these helpful and humble people. I could also interact with adults and children each week in the Play Group. My goals are to continue with AmeriCorps and to continue working with WIC. I also want to continue studying English.”
Martha, who emigrated in 2004 from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, studied economics in her home country. She heard about AmeriCorps from a former Ready to Learn Providence AmeriCorps member, who recommended the experience to her.
Some of the tasks that Martha assists with at WIC in Pawtucket are calling patients to remind them about their upcoming appointments, leading weekly play groups, taking height and weight measurements, checking iron levels, and assisting clients with checking in.
In the weekly play groups, Martha finds an opportunity to incorporate the “I Am Moving, I Am Learning” training that she received this year. Martha works to weave physical activities into the games that she facilitates. “We talk about eating fruits and vegetables, and I am able to implement the training that we received at my site.”
Checking iron levels is one of the activities that Martha was anxious about doing, but now she does it routinely. When asked if it is difficult to draw blood from young children, Martha responds, “Thankfully the parents are there to help.” In addition to children, Martha also helps check the iron levels of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. If the iron level turns out to be low, the test is repeated three times every six months.
Reflecting on her experience, Martha says, “I identify with the position now and enjoy it.” Martha describes her AmeriCorps experience as a combination of trainings, tasks and responsibilities. She sees them as a full set because each one relates to another.
Martha’s proudest accomplishment of her year with AmeriCorps is the job that she has accomplished at her site. She feels that she has learned a lot and grown personally from the opportunity. (HM)
Enthusiastic Maria Isabel wants to be a professional social worker. Nowadays she is volunteering as a Ready to Learn AmeriCorps member at Brown Fox Point.
“Working as an AmeriCorps volunteer at Ready to Learn is an experience for me,” she says. “I get a sense of fulfillment out of it.”
Maria enjoys working with children but she has a different plan for herself. “I want to be a social worker. Working with children gives me an opportunity to meet with their parents and see deep into the community’s situation. I want to play my role in social development, and working in the field of early childhood development is also a way to do it.
“My own childhood reminds me that children face lots of challenges,” she continues. “When my family moved to the United States, I was 12 years old. At that time, I found that everything was new for me. I was a tough kid. I refused to learn English and I wanted to go back to Dominican Republican, but then I learned how to overcome with it and how to accept the new situation and move on.
“With my personal experiences, I understand about the challenges that a child faces in his or her development; especially when at an early stage everything is new and strange.” As a teacher Maria not only plays a motivational role, but also tries to connect children with nature. “We have developed very good teaching techniques, but sometimes I feel that in our modern society we are drifting away from nature. When I am with children I try to find ways to connect them with it.
“Teaching can be a challenging job but before doing it I didn’t realize that I was going to love it this much. This is the beauty of AmeriCorps program. At Ready to Learn we get lots of professional and personal development trainings. You get a chance to use this knowledge in the field and Ready to learn always encourages us to connect our teaching job with the work we want to do in our life. I love my program because it helps you to find a dream and it give you a way to reach it.” (PP)
“I had a beautiful childhood,” says Maria Cristina as she reminisces about fishing and riding bikes with her brother in her native country of Colombia. “It was creative. We made swings in trees and little cars too, and it was fun.”
For as long as she can remember, Maria Cristina has always wanted to be an educator. In her country she went to school and fulfilled her dream. But later on in her life, she fell in love, and together with her husband, she moved to the United States.
After a couple of years they had a son, and Maria Cristina devoted most of her time to caring for him. Five years later, Maria Cristina found R2LP.
“Ready to Learn has been a new start for me,” she says when asked about her service year. “Even though I had taken classes in education back in my country, one of the biggest obstacles for me has been the language barrier. And that’s why Ready to Learn is like a new start, because it will help me take those barriers down.
“I am also gaining a lot of experience in the field that I love,” she continues. “I’m seeing the difference between early childhood education here in the United States and my country, and I think that is so important. Here in the United States, they protect the children more, while in Colombia they are a bit more lenient.”
Maria Cristina works very hard at her site, Dean Head Start, where she says her main role is to assist the teachers in making sure that the kids are safe and that they are learning while playing.
“Ready to Learn has believed in me, my abilities and talents, and helped me become a confident woman.” Maria Cristina plans to continue on her path of being an educator and working with children. “These are only my first steps in accomplishing my dream of working in education. I will continue to work and study very hard to keep that dream alive.” (DC)
“The past year has been a unique year,” says Hannah McConnell who is serving as a Ready to Learn AmeriCorps member at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
“I have learned a lot about myself and what I want to pursue doing. My interest in nursing has been strengthened as I’ve had the opportunity to see nurses in inpatient and outpatient settings, shadow them, and see what a critical role they play in health care.”
Hannah has a bachelor’s degree in English and is currently doing prerequisites to return to school to enter a nursing program. Nursing is Hannah’s dream job; several personal experiences shaped this desire.
“I took care of my grandma my first year out of college as she was passing away and realized that I could care for her in the same way that many of the nurses visiting her house were. I also enjoyed volunteering as a Spanish interpreter at the Rhode Island free clinic, and in high school I had the opportunity to volunteer in a children’s hospital in Costa Rica with social workers. This gave me a diverse take on how health care works in the world and helped improve my Spanish.”
Hannah currently serves as a research assistant and coordinates on an administrative level for Teens with Tots clinic as an AmeriCorps volunteer.
“I found AmeriCorps because I was looking for a job to do for a year as I got myself ready to apply to nursing programs. Having thought about pursuing a path in education, I identified with Ready to Learn’s mission. In particular, its focus on preparing children to be healthy before they enter kindergarten struck me as an important task.”
“I love the program because it allows me to interact with people from varying age groups and cultural backgrounds. It’s not quite like any other AmeriCorps program, which I thought would mostly involve people who looked just like me. I’ve been able to speak Spanish to my heart’s content and help other members improve their English speaking abilities.”
“The natural causes training that we took this year at Ready to Learn I particularly enjoyed because it touched on important and at times uncomfortable issues like race inequality and cultural differences. I will incorporate this knowledge when I become a nurse and into my work as a volunteer now.” (PP)
“AmeriCorps gave me the hope to reach my dreams and the hope to serve others, to meet the community and to use my abilities and skills. AmeriCorps was the step I needed to go forward, to feel confident and to achieve my goals.
“I work at Pawtucket Day and I work with preschoolers. I help with activities, making art, teaching the children literacy, playing games, serving lunch and snacks and sometimes supporting the teacher with the children’s behavior. I like to help parents with the language and give the teacher advice for the class. We work in a team and we help each other. I try to do my best and make everybody happy.
My goal for now is to enjoy the summer vacation until September. I hope to continue with my studies, get my associate’s degree to become a teacher’s assistant and ultimately become a preschool teacher and art teacher. Another goal is to keep my family happy and safe, and maybe someday to have a home child-care program.
My hobbies are art, painting in particular, baking, taking care of my home, cleaning the garden, seeing a good movie, singing and trying to play guitar, going to church and participating in events. When I have the opportunity, I go to the beach and park.
I have enjoyed all of the trainings but the best was “I Am Moving, I Am Learning.” I like to be creative and with this training I brought new ideas to the class to play with the children. I also had fun with the other members from AmeriCorps.
What I like about this program is the support I get personally and professionally to help me achieve my goals, to believe in myself, and to become confident. With this program I made friends who see the world with different perspectives. I am glad to be in AmeriCorps and thank all of the staff from R2LP for believing in me and for their support and friendship.” (HM)
“Serving others is something I have practiced daily in my life, as a natural process – something like walking or breathing,” says Claudia Liliana.
“I heard of AmeriCorps through a friend who is now in her second year as an AmeriCorps Member at Ready to Learn Providence. She told me about the program and I filled out the application at once. As soon as I started looking into AmeriCorps I identified with its vision, and I knew that it was something great that I could be a part of.
“As an AmeriCorps member with Ready to Learn Providence, I am part of a great program called ‘We Are a Village’ in Central Falls, RI. ‘We Are a Village’ is a marvelous project with a great ambition. The program is focused on achieving educational success through familial power and the constant and active participation of parents in the Central Falls and Rhode Island school systems.
“I have the fortune to divide my time between two places. They are Children’s Friend and Progreso Latino’s Excellence Academy, a preschool at Progreso Latino. Among my various tasks is, first, to be a support for the collaborator assigned to each one of the sites. But also to be a support for the parents – to provide the knowledge that we have received through trainings at R2LP, and to awaken the interest of parents in the educational involvement of their children.
“I can only thank the people who made possible my participation in this enriching experience. My goal is to continue to do what I like to do, which is to help others, to finish my university studies, and to be able to acquire my master’s degree and then my doctorate. I intend to work in an environment of social consciousness that seeks to provide a better environment for educating our children.
“I like constant activity and to be involved in communities where my voice counts and I can generate ideas and changes. Thank you R2LP!!!” (HM)
An especially committed AmeriCorps member, Norma Cadavid finished her 1,700 volunteer hours at least a month in advance. Her caring nature, dedication and ability to listen make Norma a great asset to this year’s AmeriCorps team. She is always there to offer a kind word or to share a chuckle.
Norma serves this year as an AmeriCorps member at Veterans Elementary School in Central Falls, where she works as a collaborator with parents to foster their involvement in the school’s community. “We look with these parents at the education system of their children and participate in it.”
Norma works closely with both English- and Spanish-speaking parents, and uses her bilingual skills to help parents read to their children in both languages. She likes being at her site because she can “interact with teachers, parents and students all together.”
When she is not at Veteran Elementary School, Norma likes spending time with her family. “My daughters are my world,” she says. One of her favorite activities is going with her family to the park and to the movies. Norma also communicates frequently with her family members in Colombia, where she is from.
Norma’s daughter, Paula, recently graduated with honors from the medical interpreter program at the Community College of Rhode Island. Paula, a former Ready to Learn AmeriCorps member, currently works organizing the Ready for K! program, a collaboration between Ready To Learn Providence, the Providence Community Library and Providence Schools. It is through Paula that Norma discovered Ready to Learn’s AmeriCorps program.
In addition to spending time with family, Norma likes reading. She enjoys spiritual books that teach you how to become a stronger person. She also likes listening to Christian music. Volunteer, mother and grandmother — Norma approaches all of her roles with conscientiousness and compassion. (HM)
Esther Romain came to the United States four years ago, two months after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. Emigrating from the south of Haiti, in the Port au Prince area, Esther joined her family in Rhode Island. But with grandparents still living in Haiti, she has maintained close ties to her native land.
Before joining AmeriCorps, Esther had a part-time job working with a child with a disability, and as an AmeriCorps member she is working at Beautiful Beginnings in Providence. After a full week there, you might find Esther washing clothes, shopping at the market, or cleaning her house. She describes these activities as typically filling up her weekends. Her hobbies include cooking Haitian, Dominican and American foods, listening to music — especially by Dominican-American artists — and traveling. She also enjoys spending any remaining free time perusing the Internet.
Esther’s passion for Dominican food, music and her impeccable Spanish comes from the three years that she spent living in the Dominican Republic. She loves traveling, she says, because she “likes to discover beautiful things.” Through her travels and from living in Haiti, Esther has mastered English, Spanish, French, as well as Haitian Creole. Her favorite type of music is Zouk, a rhythmic style of music that represents traditional folk cultures from French colonies Guadalupe, Trinidad and Martinique.
As for her experience with AmeriCorps, Esther especially loved the “Mind in the Making” training. “This training opens up your mind,” she says. “The level of thinking was very high and it helped me with my other courses.” Having previously studied accounting, Esther’s experience with AmeriCorps has rerouted her career focus a bit. She now sees herself as wanting to focus her studies on education and human development.
Esther may also want to put her quadrilingual-ness to use as a translator or as a medical interpreter. “I learned a lot about community, culture, and diversity through this volunteer work,” she adds. An effusive, positive and caring presence on this year’s AmeriCorps team, Esther — with her openness to learning from others — will go her far in whatever direction she chooses. (HM)
Smith Hill Early Childhood Learning Center
In addition to serving as an AmeriCorps member at Ready to Learn, Moses Oje, 54, is a pastor with The Redeemed Christian Church of God.
“I was born in Nigeria,” he explains, “and I came to the U.S. with the DV (Diversity Visa) program in 2005. Surrounded by an entirely new environment, I found something I was able to relate to in the church.”
Moses’s journey from pastor to AmeriCorps member has an interesting twist. “Working as an AmeriCorps volunteer at Ready to Learn is a part of the process of what I want to accomplish at my church,” he says “At my church, we have some space. The head of my church wanted to utilize the space for some good cause. We thought that opening a child-care center for small kids would be a nice idea.’’
While in the process of completing the paperwork to open up a child-care center, Moses realized that DCYF has some regulations, and that in the U.S. a person has to have certified training to run a setting. “I started getting training in this direction. Meanwhile, an AmeriCorps member contacted me and suggested that working with AmeriCorps in the field of early childhood development might help. I am glad that I considered it. Working here not only gives me the proper trainings, but also provides an opportunity to work directly in the field.”
Moses connects his work in his church and in the field of early childhood development well. “I believe that education plays an essential role in one’s development. I myself achieved a master of business administration degree in Nigeria. Being a pastor gives me a spiritual satisfaction, which is very important for me, but I also want to utilize my educational achievements. I believe that the idea of a child-care center for the church will bring everything altogether.
“It is very important to seed good values in early childhood,” Moses continues. “Especially when in this society people get a lot of freedom but without any sense of responsibilities. Freedom is good, it gives you an opportunity to chase dreams, but without a sense of responsibility people make irresponsible choices, or, in religious language, you can say they sometimes choose a path that is not permitted by God. Seeding good values along with good education in early childhood will give our youth tools to deal with their problems, and a torch that will show them their path throughout their whole lives.” (PP)
With her youngest child graduating from college, Francisca Navedo Polanca decided it was time to make some big changes. “All of my kids had settled down,” she explains. “It was the first time in my life I found myself without any pressing responsibility. So I thought it was time to do something for myself. I always wanted to graduate from high school, so I finished my degree, and I feel lucky to be serving as an AmeriCorps member at Ready to Learn.
‘’I have a very loving husband and an easygoing life,” she continues, “but I was in search of doing something meaningful – not just in terms of money but also in terms of a sense of fulfillment. This AmeriCorps position gives me that purpose.”
It is important to mention that Francesca is involved in other community-based activities as well. Whether raising funds for underprivileged people or organizing events for her community, you will find her participating enthusiastically.
Her calm tone, however, doesn’t reveal the struggles she has had in her life. She is an inspiring fighter. After surviving cancer and the side effects of its treatment, she embraced life with new enthusiasm. “I feel that I have gotten another chance so I should utilize it,” she says.
Cancer wasn’t the only struggle she has faced. “Although I was born in the Dominican Republican, I came to the U.S. from Taiwan. I was there with my first husband. After we separated, I had an option to go back to my country. I chose the U.S. because I knew that my children would get a better education and future here. I was just seeing a better future for my kids. When I came here, I didn’t have any money, job or even the English language. I worked two shifts, took care of my small babies, and learned English.’’
The passion she had for her own children’s future led her to seek work in the early childhood field. As an AmeriCorps member, she serves at Providence’s Knight Memorial Library in its children’s section. “I did whatever was possible to do for my children; all parents try to do the same for their children, but I learned at Ready to Learn that early childhood development is a complex and delicate issue. The trainings one gets at Ready to Learn change one’s whole approach on this issue. I think that if I had gotten these trainings earlier I would have done things a little bit differently. Every parent should get these trainings.”
Francisca is enthusiastic about her future after AmeriCorps. “I have learned a lot during this one-year program. I will try to use this knowledge in whatever I pursue.” (PP)
In addition to serving as an AmeriCorps member, Johanna also participates in the RI Latina Leadership Institute. “The Latina Leadership Institute empowers women in the community with different activities and trainings,” explains Johanna, who has encouraged members of Ready to Learn’s AmeriCorps team to become involved with the organization.
Johanna particularly enjoys the presentations that members of the Institute can make to educate others on topics of their choice. This experience has developed her public speaking skills and leadership abilities, she says..
Before joining AmeriCorps at Ready to Learn, Johanna worked as an AmeriCorps member for the Providence After School Alliance. She enjoyed the experience of serving the community so much that she applied for another year of AmeriCorps — this time at Ready To Learn.
Johanna’s favorite training this year at Ready to Learn was “Mind in the Making.” She found the training especially helpful because she gained insight into how children think and has motivated the work that she is doing at her site — the Robertson Elementary School in Central Falls. Joanna works on parent engagement at the school.
Some of the things that the school does to incorporate parents into the school system is having the staff greet parents when they drop their children off at school and setting up a room in the school where parents can socialize and be comfortable. “The goal is to make the parents more involved in their child’s experience at school. We want parents to recognize the faces of the teachers of their children.”
Johanna recently took a vacation to her native Colombia. She brought her father back for a visit, especially so that he could attend Johanna’s daughter’s high school graduation. Joanna’s daughter will be starting college at Amherst College in the fall. She also has a son, who is currently studying mechanical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “They are good students, just like their mother,” she says with a laugh. (HM)
Originally from Valledupar, Colombia, Lourdes retains her pride for her native country while living in Rhode Island. In addition to her service as an AmeriCorps member, Lourdes stays connected to her community as a member of the board of Rhode Island’s Cultural Society of Colombian Americans.
Lourdes specializes in costume preparation for the Cultural Society’s children’s folkloric dance group. She also helps to organize events for the society and helps with transporting children in the dance group to and from their performances. One of Lourdes’ daughters participates in the dance troupe.
A mother of three, Lourdes explains her involvement in the Cultural Society of Colombian Americans: “I am involved because I am Colombian and I want to maintain my culture.” Though living outside of Colombia, Lourdes works to keep the Colombian traditions alive, including folkloric dance.
In addition to dance, Lourdes is an experienced chef. Her favorite meal to prepare is “arepas colombianas y venezolanas,” small cornmeal sandwiches, which Lourdes points out, “need to be eaten fresh. You can have arepas with meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and avocado.” Her hobbies include baking, especially desserts, and decorating. For this reason, Lourdes’ friends often ask her to help them with party planning.
As an AmeriCorps member Lourdes works at the Mariposa Center in its state-funded pre-kindergarten classroom. “I like the Mariposa Center’s philosophy, which ensures that children are in contact with nature,” she says. “Instead of celebrating holidays, the children celebrate the seasons. They sing songs during circle time that make them excited about the surrounding nature.”
Lourdes’ involvement with the Mariposa Center has helped cultivate her desire to work as an early childhood teacher. She plans to return to Community College of Rhode Island in the fall to pursue a degree in early childhood education. (HM)
“I have a personal attachment with Ready to Learn and AmeriCorps,” explains Alexis Nelson. “As a child I had seen my mother serving in AmeriCorps at Ready to Learn. Most of the faces here are so familiar that it feels like an extended family to me.”
Like her mother, Alexis is a dedicated AmeriCorps member. “I recall that I used to sit in the back seats while my mother took all these trainings,” she says smiling. “Now I understand why I turned into a girl like me. It’s because of my mother. She applied lots of stuff on me that she learned here.”
Alexis is one of those compassionate AmeriCorps members with an independent vision about everything. Gaining knowledge is her favorite pastime. “I love books,” she says. “I used to be criticized in my childhood because I read too much.”
Alexis completed high school with good grades, but was still trying to figure out her career path when her mother convinced her to join Ready to Learn as an AmeriCorps member. “I am happy she influenced me in this direction. Now I can understand why coming to Ready to Learn was such a memorable moment for my mother. Along with a good work experience, participants get lots of trainings, which are useful not only for understanding early childhood development but also themselves. ”
Ready to Learn’s impact on society is like a stone in a pond. When a stone hits the pond’s water, it not only touches the water at a certain point but also creates ripples around it. Alexis might not continue in the early childhood development field, but she feels that Ready to Learn has enhanced her as a person. “I had a very chilled kind of childhood,” she says. “I was very calm and I never got into any trouble at any stage. A good book and some crayons were enough to make me happy. Now when I attend training like Mind in the Making, I realize why my mother tried to nourish me the way she did and how children develop into something. I am getting these trainings with perfect timing. In my family there are some young members. Now I know how to help them.”
But music is Alexis’s first love. She has given several professional performances and she is determined to finish her bachelor’s degree in music. “My future plans are still coming together in my head. I am trying to find ways to incorporate my love of music and my skills in early childhood development. And there are ways; I can use music in speech therapy. I am also getting training in that.
“As a child, I wasn’t always into music like today. I was a student at a Catholic school where music was compulsory. I wasn’t always good at it. I learned the skills gradually with hard work and with perseverance. I am good at it now only because I didn’t give up. That is the quality I want to plant in the children around me.” (PP)
R2LP Offices/ Professional Development Dept.
“I joined this organization with a mindset that along with meaningful work, Ready to Learn would also provide some time for me to think about myself. I am a very determined person, and I know my high school degree isn’t enough to lead me where I want to be. I want higher education, but all of my previous jobs were absorbing all of my energy. I work hard here too, but with great fulfillment. In terms of money, one might earn more money outside, but this organization really helps its volunteers grow, which is priceless.”
Dasiel is from the Dominican Republic and moved to the U.S. in 2000 with her mother. “I had a new baby. I was in a new country and I didn’t know the language. It was a bit of a struggle. I was keen to achieve higher education but language was a barrier.” Now, Dasiel not only speaks fluent English but she is also a very good mother of a 13-year-old boy.
In her first job she worked as a security guard. After some time, she found a place in a clothing store in New York as salesperson. Her hard work and dedication earned her three promotions in a row and soon she was the assistant manager of the store.
Gradually everything was getting on track, but life had planned something else for her. “We learned that my mother was suffering from an ovary tumor. She needed help and she is everything for me.” Her mother was in Rhode Island. To take care of her, Dasiel moved to Rhode Island.
In Rhode Island there weren’t many job options for her. Eventually she learned about AmeriCorps. “I was very excited when I got this opportunity,” she says, “and it turned out even better than I thought. Here, we not only get the opportunity to think about our future but this organization also provides lots of help in that direction. Trainings provided at Ready to Learn –like Mind in the Making and I Am Moving I Am Learning — not only help in understanding early childhood development but also make one a better person. I am a single mother and I have learned a lot about my son. Early childhood development is a very delicate and complex subject. I think if I had had this training before, I would have raised my kid even better.”
Dasiel is now pursuing a college degree in psychology. “I care about people; I want to know about them and I want to help them. That’s why psychology is the subject that fascinates me. I have started taking classes at CCRI. Trainings at Ready to Learn are also focused on child psychology. Sometimes in my psychology classes at CCRI, I feel that Mrs. Gail [Gonsalves] has already taught this. I am giving myself 10 years to become a psychologist one day. Until then I want to excel at my job and do my best at whatever responsibility is given to me.” (PP)
R2LP Pre-K Classroom at CCRI
“I feel most active in the mornings,” says Veronica, about her daily routine as an AmeriCorps member at her site at Ready to Learn Providence’s Pre-K classroom at CCRI. Her favorite area in the classroom is the “Art Center,” where she likes drawing “figures, animals, and nature” with the students.
Though it is her first year as an AmeriCorps member, Ready to Learn Providence’s Pre-K classroom is actually the second site where Veronica has worked. She began her term working with the Central Falls School District’s team, strengthening family engagement and encouraging involvement in community organizations such as Children’s Friend and Progreso Latino.
One way to encourage the engagement of parents in their child’s school day is by hosting coffee hours when parents can come and have a say in the events of the school year. In interacting with parents in person and by phone, Veronica’s Spanish-speaking skills had to come in handy.
When asked what she misses most about Ecuador where she is from, Veronica replies without skipping a beat: “The food!” One of her favorite plates, “caldo de bola,” a soup that contains plantains stuffed with ground beef, comes to mind quickly. Veronica also says she misses her family and friends, though she adds that she has made many friends in the last eight months in the Rhode Island area by taking classes and becoming involved in community organizations.
At the end of her AmeriCorps term, Veronica has the goal of taking an English class at CCRI using the Education Award given to AmeriCorps members at the end of their term of service. If she were to serve another year with AmeriCorps, Veronica would love to work in a health center, perhaps putting her degree in nutrition and dietetics to use.
For now though, Veronica is content in Johnston, RI, where she lives with her husband, Jose Luis, a Ready to Learn AmeriCorps member alum. Experiencing snow for the first time this winter, Veronica says, “I enjoyed the first snow, but this winter is very strong.” She will be ready for a respite from the ice and snow come springtime. (HM)
From her bright smile, infectious laugh, and overall welcoming demeanor, Isabel looks quite comfortable in her position behind the Project Launch desk at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Carefully explaining directions in flawless English or Spanish, Isabel provides a comforting and helpful presence to the parents of children who are patients at Hasbro.
Isabel moved to the U.S. in May 2010 to be closer to her mother, who lives in Pennsylvania. She points out that it was her first time visiting the country and that she was moving here. Isabel’s son, Ruy, who is now ten years old and a fourth grader at Sackett Street Elementary School, accompanied Isabel to Providence from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Three AmeriCorps members on this year’s team work for Project Launch, helping to screen children ages nine months to eight years for developmental delays. After the parent or caretaker of the child completes the screens, the AmeriCorps members score the screens and bring them to the doctors during the child’s well-child visit.
Isabel’s calm, confident aura serves her well in her position where she supports parents in completing the screens. Her bilingual skills allow her to communicate with a range of patients. The screens are highly useful tools that allow doctors and other health-care professionals to provide patients with the resources that they need. Without Isabel’s ability to engage with all of the patients, this tool might fall by the wayside.
As Isabel puts it, she likes and is very willing to speak English. She believes her position as an AmeriCorps member has improved her ability to speak English because she is exposed to many English-speaking people at her site. Isabel cites one motivation for improving her English being that she wanted to be able to communicate with Ruy’s health-care provider. Isabel also cites wanting to be part of a community that she contributes to and feels she’s part of as her motivation for joining AmeriCorps.
Vicki Crowningshield, Isabel’s supervisor at Hasbro, notes that Isabel is not shy about asking for clarification. She follows up and goes beyond what she needs to know in order to confirm her understanding. Whether asking a question about the screening process or asking for a precise definition of an English term, Isabel is determined to make an impact. Cecilia Benitez, Isabel’s coworker at Project Launch adds that “Isabel is very collaborative and cooperative.” A warm and friendly presence, Isabel is an asset to the Project Launch desk where she holds her own, bridging a significant cultural and linguistic gap at the hospital. (HM)
”I love being among children,” says Dioni who wants to be a graphic and video game designer. He is currently serving his community by working among children at the R2LP Pre-kindergarten Classroom at CCRI as a Ready to Learn AmeriCorps member.
Before you try to figure out the connection between being a graphic designer and preparing children for kindergarten, you have to know that there is something special about Dioni. He is a second-generation Americorps member. His mother, Rosa, who was also an AmeriCorps Member once and still misses those days, inspired Dioni in this direction after his high school graduation.
”My mother said that before studying further in a closed classroom, I should learn about my community, and give my contribution for at least one year. She was right; formal classrooms don’t suit my creative personality. I prefer learning by practice.”
Dioni has his origin in the Dominican Republic. He was raised in a family where he had seen that all of his cousins, brothers and sisters, one by one, shifted to the US. He knew that his migration was inevitable.
“I was more excited than scared,” he recalls. “When I came here, It was snowing as it was winter time. It was the first time in my life I saw the snow. It had covered everything…. It was just amazing.” This multicultural experience shaped his personality, he says. ”My own childhood reminds me that children are open to everything. They are curious and they want to learn. They inspire me a lot.”
Because of his own interest in early childhood development, Dioni started spending his time with children. As he tells his story, ”People say that I am a good teacher. I don’t make any effort for that. Teaching and learning are an ongoing process and connected with each other. I help children in their learning process and they help me to keep that child alive who is inside me, who is curious, imaginative and creative.”
Despite how much Dioni enjoys his work, he wants to become a video game and graphic designer, although the trainings at Ready to Learn have changed his direction a bit. “I am lucky that I have this opportunity. The seven skills I learned in ‘Mind in the Making’ are not only important for children but also important for me. These skills are important for everybody, but sadly these essential components are often missing in our society.
“Graphic designing is the medium that fascinates me,” he continues. “ After receiving trainings like ‘Mind in the Making’ and ‘I am Moving, I am Learning,’ something has changed in me. Now I see early childhood with a new perspective. In the future, I would love to develop graphic educational programs with this same perspective.”
Life is an ongoing journey. Every experience enriches and shapes us; for Dioni, learning and teaching connect his dream job with his present work in an interesting way. “Children are very imaginative. They can imagine a jellyfish is coming out of a pumpkin monster. They tell me these stories all day and forget about it, but I don’t. I go somewhere else and recreate these ideas when I am alone. That’s why I wanted to be among children. They evoke my imagination. In a way, they are our teachers too. I love being with them.” (PP)
Pawan’s professional path has taken lots of twists and turns. From journalist to Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) worker to government consultant in his native India, Pawan had a variety of experiences before arriving at Ready to Learn Providence. An accomplished writer, Pawan has written articles for blogs published in Hindi and several street plays, and once had aspirations of becoming a writer.
Pawan studied psychology and sociology at Gorakhbur University. His passion for social development eventually landed him a job at the NGO, Samaj Vikas, where he worked helping in World water and sanitation program’s project as develop elementary school curricula and other development projects. There, Pawan was also part of a group that focused on sensitizing people to social issues. He met his wife, Stephanie Abbott, a few years later, which led him to Providence.
Highly community-oriented, Pawan strives to get to know people from every part of the world. He is passionate about working with children, who he sees as “the seeds that we are growing for the future.” Pawan sees himself as a teacher and may want to work with high-school aged children in the future.
In India Pawan was always focused on community development. He knew that he wanted to pursue a similar position when he came to the United States. As Pawan says, “Now this country is my new home, but I am the same person. I want to play the same positive role in my new community. Ready To Learn not only gave me this opportunity but also gave me the time to assimilate into a new culture and language.”
Passionate about creating short films, Pawan also has aspirations of becoming a filmmaker. He would love to create films focused on how society affects child development. In Pawan’s words, his involvement with Ready to Learn Providence has “given him a meaning” in his new city of Providence. He enjoys feeling that he is part of a larger community.
Pawan is excited about developing his creative side further. “The kids spark your imagination,” Inspired daily by his interactions with children, Pawan is content writing, taking photos, developing his English, and making new connections. Through his work at Heritage Park YMCA, Pawan hopes to encourage the children he works with to find individual paths in life that honor all of their passions – just as he continues to do. (HM)
“Whenever I think about my own childhood I smile,” says Yesicca. “As a little girl I was always trying to read whatever I found in front of me: neglected pamphlets, billboards, newspaper headlines, ingredient information from cans, and even candy wrappers. I had just learned how to read and it opened a new world for me.”
Until recently, Yesicca had never thought about working with young children. “After college I started working in a well-known accounting firm as an assistant in Colombia,” she says. “Despite my good performance on that job I felt that this field was not for me. Something was missing… ” She thought about an array of career paths, but working with kids wasn’t one of them. Suddenly everything changed; she got married to a U.S. citizen and eventually moved to the United States.
This was a life-changing decision for her, but her joyful, married life made this change very amicable. Still, something was missing. “Everything was full of joy,” she says, “but I was missing my nephews a lot. One was born when I was in the process of moving to the U.S. and another one was born when I was already here. Sometimes I wished I were in Colombia. If I were in Colombia I would have been playing with them. I missed them a lot.”
Not able to stop thinking about them, she offered her services at the Providence Public Library to read stories for two- and three-year-old children. It was only four hours a week, but she enjoyed it a lot. “I always felt as if I were reading stories for my nephews,” she says. “My parents never read a storybook for me. I wish they could have, but maybe it wasn’t in their culture. My parents loved me a lot and gave me a lot of freedom, but I missed this ‘story time’ in my childhood. No matter what toy you give to a child, reading a story to a child is incomparable.’’
The library job not only filled the space she had in her life but also opened another door for her. One day an AmeriCorps member who had been working at the site described the Ready to Learn AmeriCorps program and convinced Yesicca to join it. She applied for it and was selected. “Now I know what I have been missing throughout my whole life,” she says. “I am very comfortable with kids and this job suits my personality. I feel that I am contributing my part to strengthen my new community. It gives me meaning.
“Now I know what I want to do,” she continues. “I want to make a career in the field of child care. Ready to Learn has not only given me this opportunity but also provided training classes in that direction. The training ‘Mind in the Making’ is an eye-opening experience if you want to work in the field of child care. I am also getting practical experience at my site. I play with children, help them in reading and writing, read stories for them. I see their wide-open eyes on every twist and turn of a story and it reminds me of my own childhood. And whenever I think about my own childhood I smile.” (PP)