2011/2012 Profiles

Meet our 2011/2012 AmeriCorps team

As you’ll see in the following profiles, our AmeriCorps team is a diverse and fascinating group. Two members of that team (Kate Leszkowicz and Kristin Richards) volunteered to write these pieces.

Gregoria Palma is one of our most driven members. For the past two years, she has strived to learn as much as she can about early childhood and the health field, and to increase her proficiency in English.

Gregoria  is spending her second year in AmeriCorps working with the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program in Pawtucket, but she has no plans to leave the R2LP team any time soon. She hopes to serve a third year in the health sector, which has become her niche since first joining the program.

Working in a primarily English-speaking environment and studying diligently, Gregoria has made remarkable progress in English in two short years. Hardly speaking a word of English when she first started AmeriCorps, she is now one of our most bilingual members. And despite working at least 40 hours a week, she still makes the time to continue taking night classes in English at Rhode Island College.

This eagerness to learn isn’t surprising considering Gregoria’s role model. While growing up, Gregoria was most  influenced by her mother, who she says was one of the hardest working and honest individuals she has known. Her mother once told her that “you can be anything you want to be, but do it in the right way. You should always be honest.” It’s with this philosophy that she approaches her personal and professional life. Gregoria is continually looking to better herself and is thankful for all of the learning opportunities Ready to Learn has granted her.

The various opportunities for learning and work are the primary reasons Gregoria moved to the United States. Originally from Argentina, Gregoria moved here ten years ago after a trip to visit her sister in Rhode Island. There are different age expectations in Argentina concerning education and the workforce, and Gregoria had a difficult time accessing these things once her children were grown. Now Gregoria is trying to take full advantage of all of the learning and working opportunities she can.

While Gregoria has no plans to  return to Argentina permanently, she visits often. She has three daughters and five grandchildren who all still live in her home country. She misses them greatly but she has her own connections here with family, friends, and her fellow AmeriCorps members. Not to mention, her sweet toy poodle, Tango. Weighing in at seven pounds, Tango has become Gregoria’s baby now that all of her children are a continent away.

Animals aren’t Gregoria’s only passion. She also likes spending time on the computer, learning about history and geology, and listening to rock ‘n’ roll music. Some of her favorite music artists include Freddie Mercury, AC/DC, and Pink Floyd. Gregoria also loves to travel and discover new places.  So far, she has had the chance to visit several countries in South America, Key West, South Beach, Niagara Falls, and several other destinations within the United States. Her dream, however, is to visit Italy and Egypt. Being a history buff, Gregoria would love to see the pyramids, the hieroglyphic writing and all of the ancient ruins that still exist in Egypt. (KR)

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AmeriCorps seemed like a perfect avenue for Miguelina Rodriguez, whose passions include working with children and volunteering.

Since joining the team two years ago, Miguelina has been serving at Wanskuck Community Library. She mainly works with children within the library and travels to the homes of different family child-care providers. Her favorite part of the job, she says, has been interacting with the children and hoping that she’ll have some sort of effect on their lives.

In fact, Miguelina has enjoyed her position so much she is hoping to do a third year with Ready to Learn. She has learned a great deal working at the library and in the trainings she has taken, but she’s equally grateful, she says, for the personal support she has received from the people here. She calls Ready to Learn a second family.

This doesn’t mean Miguelina is lacking in family. Although originally from the Dominican Republic, she has two children and four sisters who all live in the area. Her children are now 16 and 32. An affinity for children apparently runs in the family – the older of her two children is a family child-care provider in the community.

Miguelina is currently working on her own CDA, hoping to continue working with children after finishing her service with AmeriCorps. This is a big change from her prior position supervising an eight-person housekeeping team. But once hearing about the Ready to Learn AmeriCorps program, Miguelina readily left that position for better opportunities and more experience working with children.

While here, Miguelina has worked hard, learning much more about children and improving her English. She has taken several classes over the years to improve her English and they’ve paid off. Miguelina is now one of our more bilingual members. She isn’t, however, all work and study – Miguelina also likes to shop, read, and volunteer with the elderly members of her church in her spare time. (KR)

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If you walk down Wickenden Street, don’t be surprised when you bump into Elly Henderson. Chances are, she’s out enjoying the walkability of this small city. Living on the East Side, Elly has great restaurants, shops and friends just a short stroll from her apartment. She even walks to work at Children’s Friend where she works with the nurses as part of our health-care team.

Elly is no stranger to city living, as she grew up in Portland, Oregon. But moving all the way to the East Coast was no doubt a huge change for her. Like a few of our other young members, Elly grew up and went to school in the same area. It has been the opportunity of doing AmeriCorps that has allowed for a geographical change, a temporary exploration of a city and general region otherwise unknown to her.

Since being in the Northeast, Elly has taken full advantage of how compact the region is, making short jaunts to Boston, Manhattan and Long Island. But of course there is plenty to do just within the Providence city limits, and Elly has all the great people she has met through this program to do them with.

Elly especially likes the people at her site. The staff are friendly, and every day the children will walk by the nurses’ office waving, on their way out to play. Her work in that office and her interaction with the children have reignited her passion for serving in the realm of public health. Although she is uncertain whether she will return to school for a master’s degree in public health, Elly has decided this will be the focus of her career. Elly already graduated from Portland State with a major in community health education as well as a minor in psychology.

After this year with AmeriCorps, or perhaps a couple of years down the line, Elly sees herself returning to the Pacific Northwest where she grew up and went to school. Being so far from home now, she misses friends, family, and cajun tots.

Of course Elly was away from home once before, when she traveled to Europe after graduating from college. Her favorite destination in her travels was a small village in Italy where she was fed homemade ravioli and watched a local dance troupe perform. While in Italy she also enjoyed the world’s best gelato, particularly the pistachio and Nutella flavors. Now, Elly has gotten more into cooking herself, since she is away from dining halls and her mom’s home-cooked meals. So when she’s not gallivanting around the East Side, she’s probably in her apartment cooking up some delicious new recipes. (KL)

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Alicia Lagos
 is enjoying her work with children this year in her position at Knight Memorial Library. Not only are the children she reads to a joy to be around, she says, but the Knight Memorial staff is friendly and supportive as well.

Alicia is grateful for the change from her previous job – working in a clothing factory in Boston. Here, much of Alicia’s day is spent interacting with people in the community, which is something she thoroughly enjoys.

Before working in Boston, Alicia spent a year in New York City and absolutely loved it. Her favorite part about the city was the diversity she encountered there on a daily basis. She enjoyed seeing the mixing of so many disparate cultures in one common space.

Before living in N.YC., Alicia lived in Colombia, where she met her husband of 14 years.

Alicia does not foresee herself moving back to Colombia or even New York City; she would like to stay in Rhode Island indefinitely, though she admits she is not in the habit of looking too far into the future. Alicia is one to live in the “now.”

Now is the time that Alicia is enjoying all that Rhode Island has to offer. One of her favorite places in the area is the East Side, Thayer Street in particular. Alicia loves the shops and the commotion on that street, which sees all kinds of foot traffic – from college students, to tourists, to lifelong residents of Providence. It is also a great place to find a nice seafood dinner, which just happens to be Alicia’s favorite food.

When she’s not out enjoying the city life that Providence has to offer, Alicia might be enjoying one of her other favorite activities – watching movies or reading. Alicia loves dramas and identifies The Bridges of Madison County as her favorite movie. She finds it a bit more difficult to pick just one favorite book. Alicia has a general love for literacy and based on that it would seem she is in just the right program, where she can spread the joy of reading to the youngest people in her community. (KL)

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Cecilia Benitez
 just moved to the United States a year and a half ago from Ecuador, but she is well on her way to being bilingual. She would like to keep improving her English enough so that she can eventually go back to school. She left a degree program in Ecuador in clinical psychology in order to move to the United States to be with her husband.

Cecilia did not move here alone though – her two children also joined her. Cecilia has a three-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl. They both enjoy school, although she says her daughter has struggled a bit with the language transition. However, they are both resilient and very active children. This is unsurprising – when asked about her own childhood, Cecilia says that she was very active, playful, and tended to “get into things.”

Thankfully, Cecilia had very patient parents, who, she says, were the biggest influence on her life. They were always very professional in their work, they showed her right from wrong, and they were sincere in whatever they did, she says. Cecilia tries to use their teachings every day in her own life and at work with the children.

Cecilia is currently placed in Ready to Learn’s Pre-Kindergarten Classroom at CCRI. She has thoroughly enjoyed working with the children and helping the community. So much so, she says, that she would like to do the AmeriCorps program again if given the opportunity.

In addition to working with children in the classroom, Cecilia also enjoys spending time with her own children – reading, dancing and cooking. Her specialty is a pork and beans dish from Ecuador. Food continues to be one of the things she misses most from her home country, along with her friends, her uncle and aunt, and the beaches. (KR)

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Niles Brown came to Rhode Island to see a bit of the world. After growing up and going to college in the same area of Upstate New York, he felt it was time for a geographical change. This was Niles’s main reason for joining AmeriCorps — new experiences in new places.

So far it has been a successful change for Niles; he loves the city of Providence and his position at the Mariposa Center. This job does not necessarily relate directly to what he studied in college, but it has served as a good transition to life outside of Upstate.

Niles joined Ready to Learn just after graduating with a degree in philosophy. With his education award, he will finish up his second major — history. After his time with AmeriCorps, however, Niles would ultimately like to attend a vocational school to study carpentry. Hopefully a career in carpentry will open the doors to travel for Niles, as his only criteria for what would make a job a “dream job” is one in which he travels extensively.

Right now Niles is enjoying his work with children. This is a new experience for him since the youngest individuals he had worked with previously were 10 to 17-year-olds at a camp in the Adirondacks. After working six summers at the camp, Niles had become quite the outdoorsman. Climbing and hiking became two of his favorite activities. Now he tries to keep outdoor adventure activities in his regular routine, even if the closest thing to the Adirondacks around here is just a rock-climbing gym in Pawtucket. (KL)

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Jenny Marte
 originally got involved with Ready to Learn’s AmeriCorps program after hearing rave reviews from a former member. Now she is very glad she did. She claims that it has changed her life.

Jenny is very grateful to the program for giving her a sense of direction. Prior to joining the AmeriCorps team Jenny worked for a health-care company. But working there, she felt unfulfilled. Now Jenny knows that she absolutely loves working with children and wants that to remain a part of her life.

Jenny is well on her way to attaining that goal. She has almost finished her classes to acquire her CDA in just her second year working in a child-care center as an AmeriCorps member. She spent her first year with Progreso Latino and now she is working with Pawtucket Day. Jenny is hoping that after this year she can get a job as a teaching assistant.

It’s easy to see how much Jenny loves the children when you talk to her. Her face lights up when she talks about working with children. Jenny says that her favorite part is starting with children who know very little and teaching them and supporting them every day until finally that day comes when they are able to tell you their letters and how to spell their name. Jenny loves seeing the progression that the children make from the beginning of the year.

Another reason Jenny got involved with this program and is striving to become a teaching assistant is to be a good role model for her son. Jenny’s seven year old son is the focus of her life. She tries to spend the majority of her free time with him, but when she does get some time to herself she likes to go shopping and dancing.

Besides her son, the only other family Jenny has in the area is her cousin. At the age of 12 Jenny moved to New York from the Dominican Republic with her family. But when she was 19, she decided to move to Rhode Island for a new start. While she likes living in Rhode Island, she visits New York once a month to stay in touch with family. (KR)

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Almost 20 years ago, Lorenza Marchena came to the U.S., seeking a brighter future for her daughter who was born around that same time.

Like many of our AmeriCorps members, Lorenza hails from Colombia, where most of her family still resides. She is the third oldest in a family of ten children – only a few of whom also immigrated to the U.S. The family that Lorenza does have here, aside from her husband and her daughter, live in New Jersey.

Before joining AmeriCorps, Lorenza worked for the school department as a teacher’s assistant. This wasn’t her first time working with young children; Lorenza also worked as a kindergarten teacher when she lived in Colombia. Despite coming into the program with so much experience, she views her time with AmeriCorps as aiding in her personal and professional growth and development.

After her year of service, Lorenza would like to open her own child-care program. It comes as no surprise then, that one of the highlights of her AmeriCorps experience has been the training sessions.

Of course, Lorenza isn’t just enjoying her studies – she is also having plenty of fun working at Roger Williams Day Care Center. At this site, she gets to spend the bulk of her workweek running around, playing games, and doing literacy activities with 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds.

When Lorenza isn’t working she may be reading, making clothes, decorating her home, or spending time with her daughter. While Lorenza’s own childhood dreams of becoming a psychologist haven’t come true, she fully supports her daughter’s aspirations to become an architect. Lorenza recognizes how powerful  a force her own parents were in her life, stressing the value of education and always pushing her to do her best. Lorenza’s daughter no doubt receives similar guidance and support from her mother on her path toward success.  (KL)

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Shirley Mendoza
 is not the first member of her family to serve in an AmeriCorps program. She first learned of the program with her sister’s involvement in another AmeriCorps program several years ago. Shirley was inspired to get involved as well, thinking it would be a great opportunity to give back to her community and help younger children succeed in life.

Shirley is hoping she can attain a job as a teaching assistant after her time as an AmeriCorps member. As for now, she’s trying to gain all the experience she can at her site, Varone Head Start. Shirley loves working at Varone and many of the teachers have become mentors to her in the few months she’s spent there.

While Shirley loves her coworkers, it’s the children who truly brighten her days. She says that they keep her on her toes – “Children are such funny little people. Their answers always surprise me.” Shirley has a lot of hands-on experience with young children. She could just about open her own child care with her three children, ages two, four and six.

Shirley is hoping that she can do half as good a job with her own children as her father did with her. She claims that he has had the biggest influence on her life and continually supports her through ups and downs. He is also the one who taught Shirley Spanish, making her one of our bilingual members.

While Shirley is one of many fully bilingual members, she is the only fully bilingual member whose first language is English. Shirley is originally from Colombia but she moved to the United States at age three. She was actually mute until age four, but when she finally did begin to speak it was in English.

When Shirley started talking, it was hard to get her to stop. Her family members were convinced that she would become a lawyer due to her knack for talking and arguing. Shirley, however, finds she is better suited for motherhood and teaching. (KR)

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Our in-house comedian,Xiomara Rodriguez, keeps the team constantly laughing. She used to tell jokes for pay, but has since left her side job as a comedian and now has aspirations to become a medical transcriptionist. This aligns nicely with her current placement at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

While Xiomara is one of our fourth-year members, this is her first year in a medical setting. She has been placed at different child-care settings over the past three years. She originally got involved with the AmeriCorps program because of her drive to help others and her love of children. And while she enjoys her current placement, she does miss working directly with children every day.

Xiomara has actually raised three of her own children– two sons and a daughter. However, only one of them, her youngest, remains at home. Her daughter works for a computer software company in the area and her oldest son is in college in North Carolina. While she misses them dearly, Xiomara has a lot of family residing in Rhode Island, despite having immigrated from the Dominican Republic.

Moving to the United States at 19, Xiomara has been in the United States for many years. Despite the colder weather, Xiomara really likes Rhode Island and the people here. That doesn’t mean she’s never considered moving. Xiomara claims she would also like to go to Florida or Los Angeles for the warmer weather and the fast-paced lifestyle.

She would most likely fit in with those environments with her gregarious and friendly personality. Xiomara is one of those rare people who can make just about anyone smile. However, she’s not all jokes. In addition to her love of making people laugh, Xiomara’s other passion is music. She plays the guitar, sings and plays a little piano. (KR)

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Esteban Hurtado
 is well known among the staff and the AmeriCorps team for being one of our hardest working and dedicated members. This is his second year working at the Ready to Learn office and it is still hard to get him to go home at the end of the day. The staff members joke about setting up a cot for him here. However, it isn’t all work with Esteban. Despite being serious about his job, he is also one of our silliest members who can’t help but make others laugh.

Esteban’s work ethic and his affinity for helping others are some of the many good qualities that have drawn him to the world of service. Esteban worked for many years as a manager of a fabric company in Colombia. However, after moving to the United States two years ago he felt like it was time to give back.

Since joining the AmeriCorps team Esteban has realized how much he enjoys the environment of a nonprofit, the people, and the nature of the work itself. Needless to say, Esteban’s placement at Ready to Learn has been a great fit.  It is such a great fit that Esteban would like to sign on for a third year in the office. He says that he’s been given many opportunities for personal and professional development here and he is not ready to give that up.

Not only has Esteban gotten the opportunity to work with the administrative side of a nonprofit, he has also gotten the chance to fulfill one of his true passions: teaching others. Esteban regularly serves as a mentor to many of his fellow AmeriCorps members. He also organizes and teaches a weekly computer class for Spanish speakers.

Esteban’s attraction to teaching isn’t surprising given his intellectual disposition. He admits to being a very reflective person who enjoys his alone time for quiet introspection and reflection. In addition to this, Esteban also enjoys reading, working with electronics, following current events, and spending time with his family.

Esteban’s family is made up of his wife and two grown children. His daughter is a lawyer and his son is in college studying music. Besides this immediate family, Esteban has no other relatives in the United States. He grew up with a large family but they all still reside in Colombia. Naturally Esteban misses them and his home country. However, he has enjoyed his time in the United States and thankfully has no plans to move back to Colombia any time soon. (KR)

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Clara Vargas
 is a woman of many hidden talents. She can dance, cook, play volleyball and ping pong, and is musically inclined. She is also one of our most bilingual members. Clara is often asked to step into the role of translator and teacher for those who cannot speak both languages. Despite her fluency in English and Spanish, Clara did not grow up learning two languages; she first learned English traveling to the United States as an adolescent.

Although she is originally from the Dominican Republic, beginning at the age of 13 Clara would come to New York every summer to visit family and take English classes. Her English skills weren’t the only thing Clara was expanding upon over the summers. She would often skip lunch so she could use that money to expand her wardrobe as well. Luckily, along with her fashion sense, her English vocabulary stuck with her and when she moved to the United States nine years ago Clara easily picked up English again.

This is not surprising considering how dedicated Clara has always been to her studies. She is certainly an intellectual type whose favorite activities include reading and writing poetry. Clara claims that this is partly due to her early education. As a young child, Clara was taught by a retired teacher who got her excited about school. When she entered elementary school she was able to jump to third grade after one year because she was so far ahead.

Due to this quick advancement, Clara graduated from high school two years early and went on to study law for six years. Her studies in law culminated in her becoming a civil lawyer. Clara was successful in her law career, which makes sense given her spirited personality and passion for helping others.

Clara had to leave law behind after moving to the United States, but she quickly transitioned into her role as a stay-at-home mom for her three children – ages eleven, nine, and two and a half. Once meeting them, it is easy to see the resemblance to their mother. Her youngest girls are Clara made over – one as sweet as can be and the youngest has her quick wit and is already not afraid to speak her mind.

While it was hard to leave being home full time with her children, Clara got involved with the AmeriCorps program so that she could combine her passions for education and service. Last year, Clara spent her time working with three- and four-year-olds in a child-care center. She decided to take on something new this year and is currently spending her year of service in the Ready to Learn office.

Clara enjoys the environment of the office and the opportunity to work with such a diverse group of people. She will be sad to leave, but after serving she is hoping to attain her CDA and go on to work in early intervention. It is clear that Clara has a knack for mentoring and teaching. Not only is she good with children, she also takes it upon herself to act as mentor to many of our first year AmeriCorps members.

This eagerness to help others most likely stems from Clara’s mom who had the biggest influence on her life. Clara’s mother never hesitated to help anyone in need; she was always taking in family members who needed a place to stay. As a result, Clara grew up in a big family, constantly surrounded by cousins, aunts and uncles. Clara has since taken on that philosophy of helping those around her by continually brightening her fellow members’ days and lending a hand whenever anyone asks. (KR)

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One of our most outgoing and vibrant members, Antonia Vargas, is not afraid to tell you that she is one of a kind. She continually keeps the team laughing with her antics and big personality. But while she may have a good sense of humor, she is serious about her job and her studies. Her humor and dedication make her a perfect AmeriCorps member.

While Antonia loves the work she does at the Meeting Street School, her favorite part of the program has been the trainings. She is not only enrolled in the mandatory classes for first-year members, she is also taking a class on early intervention at her site. Antonia would like to put these trainings to use and go on to study special education and evaluation. Although she already has her degree in business administration, Antonia feels she’s better suited for the education world.

This comes as no surprise given her passion for helping others and her love of children. She has already raised one son of her own who she couldn’t be more proud of. He is about to graduate from high school and wants to go on to be a police officer and move up the ranks, hopefully becoming a detective one day. After moving to the United States from the Dominican Republic partly for the better opportunities, this is a dream come true
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Despite all the good fortune that Antonia has experienced since moving to the United States, she still misses the Dominican Republic greatly. She misses her family, the culture, and her life there, but she doesn’t have any plans to move back. After spending the past 18 years in the United States, she has created a life for herself here. Antonia actually started out in New York, working with a supermarket association in the Dominican community but before long she moved to Rhode Island for the quieter atmosphere.

After spending many years working in a factory in Providence, she joined the Ready to Learn team for the opportunities and to help others. She is also interested in shaping the early education experience for children in the community. Antonia had a charmed early education, attending preschool and learning to read at an early age.

In addition, her father was a retired teacher and principal so he made sure that Antonia stayed on top of her studies. She claims that her dad was a strict father, but she says that shaped her into becoming more organized and hardworking. Antonia cannot spend all of her time working and studying though — in her free time she also likes to read on a variety of subjects, spend time with her son, and pursue her passion for home decoration. (KR)

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Martha Polanco
 is one of the team’s bubblier personalities. She never seems to be in a bad mood, constantly wearing a smile on her face and easily making a joke out of anything.

It’s no surprise that while growing up she aspired to be a television personality. Martha even stayed in the entertainment arena by studying advertising in college in the Dominican Republic. She had to leave her studies, however, in order to move to the United States.

Martha has since traded in her dreams of fame for four children and a love of teaching. And she does not regret a minute of it. Martha gives credit to her children for this transformation, claiming that they have completely changed her perspective. She says that her children helped her realize the importance of dedicating oneself to helping others rather than living selfishly. With children like these, it’s no wonder they are the central focus of Martha’s life. However, these days they aren’t the only children Martha is dedicating her time to.

Martha now works full time with preschoolers at the Genesis Center.  This opportunity has allowed Martha to discover her passion for teaching. She is trying to improve her English enough to attain her CDA and become a teaching assistant. Martha claims that she enjoys every minute in the classroom but her favorite moments center around literacy and arts and crafts.

Martha is no stranger to the arts. Her secret talent is designing clothing. When she isn’t spending her time on this hobby Martha also enjoys spending time with her children, watching movies, and cooking, her specialty being Italian. This draw to Italian food is one of the things driving Martha’s travel dreams. She hasn’t had the opportunity to travel much but if she does get the chance she would love to visit Italy. (KR)

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Prior to joining the AmeriCorps team Laurie Francis was a stay-at-home mom. She has one four-year-old daughter who is the center of her life. Family is extremely important to Laurie so whenever she isn’t working she tries to spend as much time as possible with her daughter and her husband.

It has been a hard transition going from being a full time stay-at-home mom to working full time; however, her daughter is also gone all day now, too, attending a local preschool. And it won’t be long until she’s starting kindergarten.

As for Laurie, she says that she cannot remember anything about her early childhood besides the fact that she wanted to be a secretary when she grew up. This dream hasn’t changed much – Laurie still enjoys administrative work and after her year with AmeriCorps she would like to find an administrative position. As a result, her position with the Cianci Head Start nursing team has been primarily administrative and she is grateful for the experience.

While Laurie hopes to find a new position next year, she won’t be leaving Providence anytime soon. She is our only member who was born and raised in Providence. She has lived here almost her whole life minus a few years spent in upstate New York and Georgia. Laurie has traveled around the East Coast as well; however, she keeps coming back to Rhode Island. Laurie dreams of owning her own house here one day. (KR)

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While many of our members long to travel the world, Maria Perez has actually been fortunate enough to do just that. She has visited numerous countries — primarily in Europe, South America and North America. Maria has also lived in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and now the United States.

Maria moved to the United States five years ago and she has been working with Ready to Learn for four of those years. She spent her first two years serving at a library but has since transitioned to working with children full time at Federal Hill House. Working with children has continually been her favorite part of the program.

Ready to Learn hasn’t just given Maria the opportunity to work with children every day, but it has also helped her discover her passion for helping the community. After leaving the AmeriCorps program, Maria would like to continue working in the community. She doesn’t just enjoy helping people either; Maria also has a soft spot for animals, especially dogs.

This love for helping her community isn’t too far off from what Maria wanted to do as a child. When she was young, she dreamed of becoming a famous lawyer who would help underrepresented populations, particularly those from lower socioeconomic classes. While this didn’t pan out, Maria still makes an effort to help those in need.

Perhaps Maria’s kind spirit is a result of her good upbringing. Her father had the largest influence on her growing up and was her first teacher as a child. She learned a lot of what she knows from him. Maria tried to carry on his lessons in raising her own two children– ages 24 and 28. Maria couldn’t be more proud of them and for good reason. They are now working professionals after graduating with degrees in archeology and business and “truly good people.” (KR)

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This is only Shirly Castellanos’ fourth year in the United States but she seems to have found her niche here already. This is her third year serving in a child-care center with the AmeriCorps program and Shirley has fallen in love with teaching children. So much in fact, that she is currently striving to get her CDA and become a literacy coach or teaching assistant. Shirly has taken almost all of her CDA classes already, but she would like to continue improving her English and attain her license.

Shirly is now serving at the YMCA – Heritage Park. Being in a classroom is a dream come true for Shirly who has wanted to teach since she was a child. AmeriCorps has not only supported Shirly on her path to becoming a teacher, but it has also continually served as a great support system through the good and the bad. She says that the AmeriCorps team and the Ready to Learn staff are like a family to her and they have helped her grow both professionally and personally.

Ready to Learn isn’t the only great support system in Shirly’s life. She is also married with two daughters, one of whom is a new addition to the family. Shirly tries to spend as much time with her daughters as possible and to be the best mom she can be. She has a good example from her father who set the precedent for good parenting, serving as her best friend and biggest supporter.

Shirly not only had a supportive family as a child, but was blessed with an early childhood education as well. She still remembers her preschool experiences in Colombia. One that stands out is making a beautiful jewelry case in the class. She says that handmade crafts are a staple in Colombia and one thing she misses from her home country. However, while she may miss Colombia she doesn’t have plans to go back anytime soon. Shirly says that if she is going to travel abroad she would love to travel to Paris, France. (KR)

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Sarah Crean’s experience in Providence thus far has been nothing if not eclectic; in the past year and a half she has moved four times. She has seen all different parts of the city, from Elmwood to the East Side. By this point she must have a firm grasp on just how diverse the neighborhoods within Providence are.

Providence isn’t the only place Sarah has explored outside of her hometown on Long Island. She spent a month in Tanzania volunteering in schools and working with AIDS/HIV victims; she traveled to Alaska for some whitewater rafting; and she has been several times to the West Coast, where she would like to settle down when the time comes. Still on Sarah’s list of places to visit is Chile – her birth country where her father brought her back from when she was too young to remember ever being there. She would also like to travel around Europe.

In the immediate future, Sarah sees herself attending school, working toward a master’s degree in public health. This will probably land her back in New York for a while. Her career path has changed slightly since she was a child, when she wanted nothing more than to be a nurse. Unfortunately, science and math turned out not to be her forte in school. In the future, however, Sarah would consider going back to school for nursing.

Right now Sarah is enjoying her position at Hasbro Hospital, working with the doctors and helping families as they come in with their children. She is at this site for the second year in a row, and has learned quite a bit in her time there. She does, however, miss her hometown.

Hailing from Northport on Long Island, Sarah often misses the quaint small-town life when she is away. One of her favorite times of year is right after Thanksgiving when the town has a special ceremony, lighting the leg lamp modeled after the one in the classic 1983 movie A Christmas Story.

Although making the trek home is not exactly a frequent occurrence, Sarah thoroughly enjoys her visits there. But whether she is visiting home or hanging out in Rhode Island, it is likely Sarah is running, biking, making art, or working toward her future. Indeed, Sarah spends much of her time preparing for whatever adventures school next year will bring, and it is with great excitement that she looks ahead to life beyond AmeriCorps. (KL)

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Kate Leszkowicz
 grew up outside of Buffalo, N.Y., in a town “that smells like cookies all the time.”  While Kate still refers to Buffalo as home, she moved away as soon as she could, spending her four years of college at Notre Dame University in Indiana and studying abroad for one semester in Ireland.

Kate enjoyed Ireland so much that after graduating she spent another year there. Now she is living in Providence until the end of the year, when she has plans to move yet again. Kate is quite the traveler and she has no plans to return to New York any time soon.

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t miss anything from home. Her parents and sister still live there, as well as many of her friends. In addition to family, Kate guiltily admits there is one thing she misses from Buffalo – the chicken wings. A self proclaimed vegetarian, Kate says she can’t help but break her vegetarianism for Buffalo wings and, of course, major holidays. Really good chicken wings are one of Kate’s secret addictions – that and coffee. It isn’t very often you find Kate without a coffee cup in hand.

Kate says she, like many, developed her coffee habit in college in order to stay up studying. Coffee and candy are necessities for all-nighters, she says. However, late nights and a love for coffee aren’t the only things Kate took away from her college experience. She also developed a passion for service – spending one summer volunteering with underage mothers in Orlando, Fla., and then another summer with homeless mothers in Fairfield, Conn.

Kate’s service work did not stop there. After graduating, she went on to spend a year in rural Ireland volunteering with people with developmental disabilities. Kate claims she joined the AmeriCorps team in order to transition back into the real world after spending a year on a farm in the middle of nowhere in Ireland. She wanted to spend her “gap year” giving back to the community.

The “gap year” turned into two – and Kate is now in her second year at the Providence Public Library. Kate’s placement at the library has been her favorite part about serving with Ready to Learn. She says that she has gotten to learn a lot from her bosses at the library as well as establish connections with the community through home day-care visits and library programs. Kate also loves working in a place where she is constantly surrounded by one of the things she loves most – books.

Reading and writing are Kate’s true passions in life and one she plans on pursuing. After finishing up the year with AmeriCorps, Kate would like to get a master’s degree in creative writing. When asked about her dream job, she says that ideally she would be able to make a living writing young adult literature. She makes sure to add: “But nothing cheesy like all the current vampire books. I want to stress the word literature.” Kate would like to try and channel her favorite authors: Charles Dickens and C.S. Lewis. (KR)

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While all of the R2LP AmeriCorps members are nice people, Julia Fontalvo is definitely one of the sweetest – she never has a bad word to say about anyone or anything. Naturally, she has been a big hit at Women, Infant and Children in Central Falls, her placement site. Even the children love her, despite having their fingers pricked.

This is Julia’s first time venturing back into the workforce after spending many years as a stay-at-home mom. She has three adorable boys – eight-year-old twins and a four-year-old. You would think she had her hands full with a house full of boys; they are, however, extremely well behaved children who clearly adore their mom. They are hard to resist, especially in their frequently matching outfits, which is why she is currently considering getting them a puppy to add to the mix.

While Julia has a lot to miss at home, she loves her position with AmeriCorps. She loves it so much, in fact, that she is considering signing on for a second year. She says this has been an amazing opportunity for her, one that she plans to take full advantage of by participating in all of the training opportunities and continuing to improve her English. But her favorite part of AmeriCorps, she says, has been helping others. Serving her community has always been a passion of Julia’s and something she would like to continue even after AmeriCorps.

When she’s not working, Julia likes to spend time with her family, do outdoor activities, watch movies – specifically action –  and cook. Cooking is a necessity with Julia’s love for fish. It’s a new hobby, one she’s developed since moving to the United States.

Julia grew up in Colombia, where some of her family still resides. However, her parents, sister and brother also immigrated to the United States and are scattered around Central Falls and Providence. While she lived in South Carolina for a short while, she has no plans to leave Rhode Island any time soon. (KR)

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Alicia Malave
’s favorite part of being an AmeriCorps member is following her lifelong dream of teaching. She studied elementary and preschool education in the Dominican Republic before relocating to the United States. “I love teaching,” Alicia says. “I want to continue learning everything I can about this field.” After AmeriCorps she would like to get her CDA and find a job as a preschool teacher.

Alicia is currently working toward these goals by working at Beautiful Beginnings for a second year, as well as taking a CDA class and a computer class. She is always eager to learn. This is what drives her love of reading. She claims that she will read almost anything but some of her favorite topics include psychology, fiction, poetry and history. In addition to this favorite pasttime, Alicia also enjoys home decoration, writing songs, attending church, and spending time with her family.

Happily married, with two children, family is very important to Alicia. Her children are almost grown now and Alicia has made sure that they have had a good education. Her son is in the tenth grade and her daughter is studying at Rhode Island College.

Alicia’s own education began in a home preschool in the Dominican Republic. While she can recall that she had a positive early education, she doesn’t remember the details from this experience. However, Alicia does remember her grade school experience quite vividly, specifically her first grade teacher. She says that her first grade teacher showered her with affection and let Alicia help her in the afternoons. This teacher is one of the people who inspired Alicia to become a teacher herself.

While she holds many fond memories such as these from living in the Dominican Republic, she doesn’t have any plans to go back. The majority of her family now lives in the United States. They are some what scattered, residing in Rhode Island, New Jersey and North Carolina. However, Alicia doesn’t mind the distance because she enjoys the opportunity to travel. While she has gotten the chance to travel in the United States, there is still one place she longs to visit – Italy. Hopefully one day she will get the chance to vacation there and get a taste of the Italian food she adores. (KR)

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For Yesica Bustamente, a year with the R2LP AmeriCorps team meant a great opportunity for growth and learning. Two years with the R2LP AmeriCorps team meant the chance to experience both the administrative and the more hands-on aspects of a nonprofit organization. But next year, Yesica says, it’s time to move on and let someone new have the kind of opportunity she has had through her work with Ready to Learn.

Yesica immigrated to the United States six years ago from Colombia.  She came with her father, leaving behind her mother, friends, and cousins. This was no easy transition.  For Yesica one of the most striking differences between life in her home country and life here in Rhode Island has been the lack of familial relations. Here, she has her father. But for someone who grew up with her parents, grandmother, uncle and cousins all under one roof, having only one relative around can be a bit lonesome.

The good news is, after 12 months of waiting, Yesica’s mother is finally able to join her daughter and husband in the States. The process was long and arduous, but it will mean a great change for Yesica’s entire family.  Her father was not only holding a cleaning job here in Rhode Island, but would intermittently return to Colombia where he would spend time with his wife and work as a taxi driver. Now, they will be able to spend time together as a whole family again when Yesica’s mother joins her here.

This coming year will mean many more happy changes in Yesica’s life, including earning her CDA and beginning work as a teacher’s assistant. Later, Yesica hopes to begin studying child and family psychology in New York City. Yesica would like to continue working with children, as her years here at Ready to Learn have helped her discover the passion she has for working within this field. (KL)

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It’s no wonder Dolores Robertswants to work with children – she did such a good job with her own. And she is one proud mom. Her three children are now adults, who are married and have their own kids. Her daughter has her medical degree and is now working for a local non-profit, one of her sons is a computer engineer, and the other works for Bank of America. And it doesn’t take long to see where they got their brains. Dolores has two bachelor’s degrees – one in chemical engineering and the other in education.

Dolores taught math in the Dominican Republic, but since her license is not valid in the United States she hasn’t been able to formally teach since moving here. That doesn’t mean she’s completely left the world of education. Since moving to the United States, she has worked in an elementary school in New York and as a mentor for two-year-olds in Rhode Island.

Dolores decided to join AmeriCorps to gain experience in early education and she’s going to need it. Dolores has dreams of opening her own home learning center. She is hoping her time at Ready to Learn and working at her placement site, Dean Head Start, will give her the tools she needs to do this.

It seems as if Dolores will be working in education for a long time. This is no surprise, considering she always wanted to be a teacher and she loved teaching so much in the Dominican Republic. Her school and teaching are two of the things she misses most from her home country. However Dolores also misses her family members who still live there, her friends, and of course the beach, which is one of her favorite things.

The Dominican Republic isn’t the only place that Dolores has lived. She has also spent time in Puerto Rico, Panama, and New York before finally settling down in Rhode Island. It doesn’t look like she’ll be leaving here anytime soon.

Dolores would like to open her learning center in her home in Pawtucket. In fact, her home is already in the midst of preparation for such a center. This takes a lot of time and energy. However, when she does have additional free time Dolores likes to spend it with her family, going to the park, reading and going to church. (KR)

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In his first week at the John Hope Settlement House last year, it became clear to Mo Cocchini-Beck that working with young children all day long is not an easy profession. Undeterred by the challenges, he persevered, learned from the seasoned educators there, and developed a passion for early care and education.

“You have to be a unique individual to work with children,” says Mo. “It takes a lot of energy and perseverance… more than people would like to think.” Mo is one of those special individuals who truly enjoy working with young children.

This love for children is the primary reason Mo got involved in the AmeriCorps program and why he has signed on for a second year at John Hope. Early childhood education administration is one of several areas he is considering when he eventually pursues a master’s degree. His bachelor’s degree is in anthropology, but his experience with AmeriCorps has made him realize he may be better suited for education.

That doesn’t mean Mo will be jumping right back into school. He hopes to return to his home country of Brazil this coming year and spend a year abroad. Mo immigrated to New York at the age of one after being adopted. His adoption turned out to be a life-changing experience and his parents have had a huge impact on his life. They inspire him daily due to their life experiences, successes, and how they handle day-to-day situations. Mo says that he “never stops learning from them.”

Mo’s parents also shaped his early childhood education, sending him and his two siblings to the prestigious Waldorf School as a child.  It appears that he had a blessed childhood – one factor that is influencing him to join the realm of education. He wants to ensure that children have the same good experiences that he was blessed with.

Education is a far cry from what Mo wanted to do growing up. As a child, Mo dreamt of one day becoming a veterinarian or a chef. However, he still likes to cook in his free time. His specialties are Italian food and breakfast food. In addition to his cooking hobby, Mo is also a secret Star Wars junkie and obsessed with soccer. Last year he coached the children at his site in soccer; this year it’s football. (KR)

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Glorayma Ramos is one of our busiest AmeriCorps members. She not only works 40 hours a week at Manton Head Start, but also studies at the Bible Institute and has two children of her own.

In her “free time,” Glory volunteers as the director of her church’s Women’s Ministry, teaches Sunday school, and often spends her weekends clowning around, literally. Glory works part time as a clown and mime. She actually went to clown school, in addition to studying floral design, bank telling, and child development. She is certainly a jack of all trades.

The majority of Glory’s many activities are centered on children. She loves working with children and making them smile. This is one of the main things that attracted her to Ready to Learn. This and her background in child care – Glory is the only AmeriCorps member who already has her CDA. She hopes to put this degree to further use next year and apply for jobs as a teacher’s assistant.

It wouldn’t be Glory’s first time in that role. She also worked as a teacher’s assistant in her home country of Puerto Rico.  She even got the chance to work in her son’s classroom – an experience she wouldn’t trade for the world. She claims that it was an amazing opportunity to work as a teacher and a mom at the same time.

Nothing is more important to Glory than her two children and she’s extremely proud of them.  She has every right to be – they seem to be on the right track with aspirations to be a physical therapist and a veterinarian. It is surprising neither of them has taken on her passion for teaching. Glory has wanted to be a teacher since she was a little girl.

This may be partly due to her early childhood experiences. She still remembers her preschool fondly, including her teacher’s name. However, it was her grandmother and her stepdad who had the biggest influence on her growing up. They taught her to go after what she wants and to remain positive.

Glory has truly put their teachings into practice. She is an extremely positive person with high hopes for herself and those around her. When asked about this program she replied: “If you have a positive outlook you can get far in this program. Never quit, just keep going!” She carries this energy in all facets of her life. Of course she would have to with her crazy, busy schedule. (KR)

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Rosa Villarnovo
 is our only member coming to us from Bolivia. She moved here 11 years ago, but still misses many things from her country – the food, the weather and her extended family to name a few. She would consider moving back, but for now she has five very good reasons to stay in the US – her four daughters, and her four-year-old grandson, who all live in Providence. They are the most important things in her life and she says she will relocate to wherever they are living.

When not spending time with her family, Rosa can usually be found working at Children’s Friend Child Care, shopping, cleaning or studying. While she is bilingual, she is currently enrolled in English classes to improve her second language.

The opportunity to study has been one of her favorite parts of the AmeriCorps program – this and working with children. She loves working with the children so much she is considering doing AmeriCorps for a third year next year.  However, she can’t do AmeriCorps forever. Rosa eventually wants to improve her English enough to get her CDA.

This is very different from her childhood dreams. As a child, Rosa dreamt of becoming a stewardess. She thought they were beautiful and she wanted to live a glamorous life full of travel. As she got older, these dreams changed to becoming a teacher. Rosa actually fulfilled this dream, spending four years teaching elementary school and kindergarteners in Bolivia. However, once relocating to the United States the AmeriCorps program has been the first time she’s been back in a classroom. Hopefully she’ll get to stay there, and continue to reach her goals of improving herself personally and professionally. (KR)

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Mirna Carrillo
 is well known among the AmeriCorps members and the Ready to Learn staff – she’s the member with a smile always on her face and a kind word ready. It’s difficult not to be in a good mood when she’s around. This bubbly personality makes her a hit with adults and children alike.

It’s easy to see the children love her and this adoration is not one-sided. Mirna’s face lights up when she talks about teaching. When asked what attracted her to this program she replies, “I always wanted to be a teacher. Even when I was young I would make my little cousin play school with me and I was always the teacher.”

Placed in our own R2LP pre-K classroom, Mirna loved it so much she came back for a second year. And it wasn’t her first time in a classroom. While living in Guatemala, Mirna taught high school. She hopes to improve her English enough this year so she can get certified to teach in the United States.

Mirna loved teaching in Guatemala. However, teaching seems to be one of the only things she misses from her home country. She relocated to the United States because the majority of her family resides in Rhode Island. She talks of staying here permanently and hopefully having her own children. After growing up with five siblings, Mirna wants to have a large family as well.

As for now, it’s just her and her husband. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have her share of children in her life. Besides working in a classroom, Mirna also teaches Sunday school, and has three nieces she absolutely adores.

Ready to Learn seems to be the perfect fit with Mirna’s love for children, and also her love of reading. Mirna claims that when she was young she would read absolutely everything. She looked forward to going to her grandparents’ house almost solely because it was full of books and she could spend hours leafing through them. This passion for reading is what drove her to get a bachelor’s degree in literature.

Mirna attained her literature degree in Guatemala, so most of her reading was done in Spanish; however, she says that she also loves to read William Shakespeare. While reading Shakespeare inspires Mirna, the book that has influenced her most is her Bible. And while she still enjoys reading in her free time, most of Mirna’s reading is done with the 18 children she sees five days a week.

Mirna hopes to make their early education experience better than her own. Pre-school classes weren’t available when Mirna was growing up in Guatemala. Thus her favorite part of AmeriCorps has been being able to influence each child’s early education. “You can never make a difference in every person’s life, but you can make a difference for 18 children,” she says. (KR)

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Many of our AmeriCorps members come from large families, but Andrea Cabrerahas created her own. She could start a basketball team with the number of boys in her family – and have some left over for substitutions. Her six sons ranging in age from 3 to 26 and her husband of over 20 years make her the only female in her immediate family.  Thankfully, her first granddaughter, in addition to the second one on the way, helps to alleviate the feeling of being the odd-woman-out.

Family is an important part of Andrea’s life, and this is one of the reasons she enjoys her position at St. Joseph’s Hospital so much. At her service site, Andrea loves the fact that she gets to interact with other families in the community. Beyond the simple pleasure she gets from helping others, Andrea’s position at St. Joseph has already given her back quite a bit. It is working at this site that has inspired Andrea to go back to school.

Although she does not yet know what the future will bring – and more specifically, whether another year with AmeriCorps is her next step – for Andrea the past two years in the health field have sparked an interest in her. With her education award from AmeriCorps Andrea hopes to take some health classes and explore further opportunities in that area of work.

It was Andrea’s desire to try something new that led her to R2LP in the first place. She herself was ready to learn and to expand her horizons; in the few years she has been affiliated with R2LP, she definitely has done both. She loves learning from different cultures and sharing her own with others. Andrea has undoubtedly helped other members in their pursuit of becoming bilingual, as she is always ready and willing to share her own experiences and thoughts – in both Spanish and English.

In her free time, Andrea continues to play an important part in her community. She is involved in seven Sunday school classrooms and remains an active participant in her church in other ways as well. Her other hobbies include reading and cooking – she loves to try new dishes. Her favorite hobby, though, is spending time with her youngest son, and her family in general. (KL)

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This year, we have two members joining us all the way from the West Coast. Andrew Geary is one of those members, hailing from Seattle, Washington – a place he seems to miss only in terms of his friends, the mountains, and of course the music scene. What brought him this far from home, besides the wonderful opportunities and experiences awaiting him at R2LP, was the desire to try out life in New England.

Andrew spent most of his formative years in Alabama, and the past 12 years in Washington.  Between road trips with friends in a Geo Metro getting 40 miles to the gallon, travels with his father including mission trips to Mexico and a road trip across the country, there are only a handful of states left for Andrew to visit. But he’s not one to balk at a challenge to complete his tour of the continental United States. Clearly he has an adventurous spirit; he has described much of his time before coming east as being spent kayaking, climbing mountains, and camping out on islands.

Before beginning his New England adventure, Andrew completed a two-year degree at a community college in Washington.  At the moment he has little interest in continuing his education – at least not at a university. Andrew is a student of life, and learning within the confines of a four-year institution doesn’t quite appeal to his sense of adventure and desire for exploration.

There is one school Andrew does very much enjoy frequenting, however, and that is the preschool at Mt. Hope YMCA – his site for the service year. At this school, “Mr. Andrew” is a children’s-book-reader, a literacy-activity-creator, a memory-game-player, and – what seems to be his favorite role – a playground-swing-pusher. It’s clear that Andrew enjoys his time at the center, just as he enjoyed his previous work with children at a theatre in Washington. Although his main function was moving set pieces, he was able to interact quite a bit with the children there too.

In the future, Andrew says he may return to his gig at the children’s theatre. He also plans to one day have children of his own, but not before he has a genuine Native American baby basket. Andrew explained the necessity of this, saying, “I know I won’t be ready to have a kid unless I have a baby basket. I won’t be ready as a person.”

Until then, Andrew will spend his time traveling, maybe taking lots of whittling classes – as he needs to find something to do with that pesky education award that doesn’t involve taking typical college courses. He is considering doing other AmeriCorps programs after he finishes his year at R2LP, perhaps NCCC or California Conservation Corps, both of which would fit in well with his sense of adventure.

Aside from baby baskets and whittling classes and maybe more AmeriCorps, in the future Andrew hopes to do more backstage theatre work, “go out into the wilderness for several periods” and “make more great friends” like the ones he has made at R2LP. (KL)

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When Marybel Peguero isn’t at the Mount Pleasant Library reading to small children, she might be dancing or cycling – but probably not cooking. That doesn’t mean she’s not a fan of food – it’s just the effort that goes into making it that deters her from adding cooking to her favorite hobbies. Like any good member of the R2LP team, food and eating rank high on her list of things she enjoys. But unlike many of the R2LP members, it’s traditional American cuisine that she looks for on a menu, not food from her home country of Colombia.

Since leaving Colombia ten years ago, Marybel has not only enjoyed the change in diet, but much more importantly she is excited about the increase in opportunity for herself and her two children. While her daughter plans to become a model and her son is headed toward a career as a Marine, Marybel herself hopes to work as a certified nursing assistant in the near future.  This is a goal she is working toward by continuing the English classes she started a year ago as a first-year member at R2LP.

In the current year, Marybel is enjoying working with the children and learning about child development.  In her work at the community libraries and in local home child-care settings, Marybel is giving children a better start than she had. In Colombia, she wasn’t able to begin school until the first grade, and only now are preschools becoming more prominent fixtures in that country. However, while she was growing up her mom and dad taught her responsibility, respect and honesty, thus having a huge positive impact on her life, as well as on the lives of her many brothers and sisters. She was the baby in a family of five girls and one boy.

Marybel misses every member of her large family dearly but has no plans to return to Colombia permanently. In fact, she is in the process of getting a petition for one of her sisters to move to the United States. The process will take about ten years, which means Marybel’s now-17-year-old nephew would not be able to join his mother in the trip. Perhaps Marybel will still be residing in Rhode Island, though she doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of the weather. She has expressed hopes to go somewhere much warmer, such as South Carolina or Georgia, and muses “maybe I move by myself someday,” if her family members are unwilling to tag along(KL)

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Within the first week of work at the R2LP office Kristin Richards asked her supervisors for more work. She is nothing if not motivated, and it is with this spirit that she tackles life. Some of her goals for this year include learning Spanish and learning more about the inter-workings of a nonprofit.

Kristin fits in well at the R2LP office with her background in nonprofit work.  Her interest in service work began in middle school, when she started volunteering with her church’s youth group at the time.  Last year she divided her time between working in the chancellor’s office at her alma mater and working with children with disabilities. She is of the service heart and mind; this is what drives her ambitions for the future.

“I like helping people,” she says, when asked about her desire to work in higher education. It’s important to her that students have an enriching college experience, and she would love to help them along the way.

Kristin will pursue a master’s in higher education beginning next year, before re-entering the world of university administration. Her work the previous year made her more sure about a career in higher education: she likes the atmosphere of a college campus; she likes being around people; she believes that education is very important and that everyone deserves a chance to do their best.  Working in higher education seems the perfect fit.  Kristin claims she hasn’t thought too much about which university she would like to work for but after a slight hesitance she added, “Well, I don’t want to jinx it.”

Her mother had the greatest influence on her own earliest education, as she was a stay-at-home mom, and Kristin was only in preschool for one year, part-time, when she was four.  But most of this she doesn’t remember.  Neither does she remember Hawaii, where she was born and lived the first year of her life.  Born a Navy brat but soon released from that role as her father “got out” it wasn’t until she was five that her parents settled on North Carolina as home, where they would go on to raise their two daughters.

Maybe Kristin doesn’t have the best mind for memory, because she also can’t seem to remember a day without peanut butter. She is obsessed with the protein and oxalate-rich viscous substance. It’s not the worst food to be obsessed with, especially as a vegetarian.

Kristin’s love for animals prompted the change to a meat-free diet during college.  It also prompted her to adopt a precious cat named Dylan she describes as “sweet.”  Not so sweet is her fiancée Laura’s cat, adopted at the same time and commonly described as “psychotic” and “demonic.”  For the first week after the move to Rhode Island the cat proceeded to throw up blocks.  After her year with AmeriCorps Kristin, along with Laura, Finn and Dylan, hopes to settle down for a while where Kristin can pursue her master’s degree in higher education and Laura can pursue hers in physical therapy. (KL)

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At only 21 years old, Paula Enciso is the second-youngest AmeriCorps member this year on the R2LP team, but it seems like she already has life pretty well figured out.  Married to her high school sweetheart, mother of an adorable three-year-old, and on her way to earning a CDA and eventually becoming a teacher, Paula has plenty to be happy about.  And it shows when you talk to her.

As one of our most fluent speaking members – in both English and Spanish – she can, and will, talk to anyone.  She readily helps bridge that gap between mono-language English and Spanish members, sometimes even serving as translator during training sessions.

Paula has a generous spirit and when it comes to helping others learn she is enthusiastic and motivated.  Before joining AmeriCorps she worked at the Boys and Girls Club in Cumberland. In her life outside of work she still serves as a Sunday school teacher for the children between ages 9 and 11 from her church.

Right now, Paula is excited about the opportunity to be so involved with the goings-on at the Heritage Park Early Childhood Education Center, where she participates in Early Reading First meetings and where she feels the initiative she takes in organizing learning opportunities for the children in her classroom are welcomed and appreciated.

Not too many details come to mind when Paula tries to recall her own preschool days – aside from being bitten on the face by the director’s son, because, she says, “he liked me.”  “Then I bit back.”  When such difficult situations arose, and she needed a bit of advice, Paula looked to the strongest male figure in her life, her uncle.

Although they didn’t live under the same roof, Paula’s uncle was always around for her, as well as for the other young members of her family.  He provided guidance, support and structure for the children in his family, and this is something for which Paula is still very appreciative.  She identified her uncle as the person most important in shaping her life.  Even though he joined the army, went to college and “went through a lot” in his time, he never seemed to boast or brag.  He carried himself humbly and respectfully, while maintaining a role-model status for the young people in his life.

When you get to know Paula, you see she has the ability to play a similar part for the children she surrounds herself with, and it is clear she will strive to be a role model for the many young people she encounters in all facets of her life. Starting with her own daughter, Nataly Sophia, who is “lovable but will tell you things the way she sees them and that’s that,” and expanding to all those children whose lives she influences through work and church, Paula’s kindness and enthusiasm for learning will undoubtedly lend a positive hand in shaping their lives, just as her uncle helped shape hers. (KL)

 

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