BENEFITING: HISPANIC COMMUNITY SERVICES INC
A Place to Be Themselves: Hispanic Community Services At six years old, Pamela Sotelo isn’t very certain of much in the world, but knows that learning English is difficult. Pamela was born in Mexico, and her family has joined the high influx of Hispanic families to northeast Arkansas in pursuit of a better life. Pamela’s mother, Rosa, works as a janitor and her father works in construction. Rosa is working to learn English at home. “Things can be confusing when your parents are speaking Spanish to you, and your teachers are speaking English,” said Madison Fowler, the afterschool program coordinator at Hispanic Community Services. “We offer a place for Hispanic children to come and converse with likeminded children who are in the same bilingual, confusing situations. We offer them a place where they can be themselves.” Having this kind of comfortable environment is especially important for youth whose academic setting deviates substantially from that which they’ve grown up with, helping them overcome feelings of discomfort or isolation that can negatively affect their behavior and performance in school. Rosa enrolled her daughter at Hispanic Community Services even before she started school at Blessed Sacrament. “I’d heard of the Hispanic Center, and the help they give to kids. I brought her so they could teach her,” Rosa explained. While Pamela is a bright and creative girl who loves coloring and art, she had difficulty in school because of the language barrier. “Her English skills were not up to par when she first started coming a year ago. She was speaking very minimal English. She could only say ‘hello’, and ‘How are you’,” described Ms. Fowler. The language conflict made acclimating to her new environment challenging. She was “shy” and “withdrawn” initially, said both her mother and Ms. Fowler. Pamela struggled in school, specifically in reading, spelling and language arts. Pamela worked hard, receiving individualized tutoring five days a week at Hispanic Community Services and then studying at home following the afterschool program. Her hard work and the one-on-one assistance have paid off. “Her grades have seen such an improvement since she’s been coming. Her English skills are better, she can better communicate with her teachers and her instructors here, with people out in the community,” said Ms. Fowler proudly. Improving her English and finding a supportive community has helped Pamela adjust and succeed in her new surroundings. Hispanic Community Services strives to meet the needs of the growing Hispanic population by providing afterschool care, translation services, computer and English classes and many other free services to support families. “It’s difficult to cater to the needs of all of the families,” Ms. Fowler acknowledged. Many families have no transportation, or share one car in large, extended families. “I get calls from school counselors saying they have students that need to come, but they can’t get here,” she adds. With transportation, Hispanic Community Services could expand to reach more youth. Despite this conflict, the organization still exposes youth to public service and the community. “They need to learn the importance of helping others and we try to stress that in the classroom,” Ms. Fowler said. Pamela will be volunteering for the first time at the foodbank. Since Pamela’s school does not have many Latinos, she also assists in her school in Spanish class. “I have to teach them a lot, because when we’re in Spanish class they’re always asking me, what is this? What is this?” Pamela said. This interaction and budding confidence in both languages has helped Pamela come out of her shell. Larry Davis, a volunteer who has worked with Pamela since he starting working with Hispanic Community Services around six months ago, has also witnessed her transformation. He says that her personality has brightened, and she has become more interested in school now that she has a better grasp of the language and concepts. He feels passionately about the work Hispanic Community Services does, emphasizing that he sees it as a way to level the playing field for these youth who find themselves behind their peers. Ms. Fowler echoes this sentiment, saying, “We aid Hispanic children who would not have the opportunity otherwise in their schoolwork, in their academia, their social skills in order to acclimate them to this world. Give them a sense of identity and help them through school.” Pamela has come a long way from being a shy, withdrawn, insecure little girl. She has blossomed into an outspoken, engaged leader among her fellow students at school and here at the Hispanic Community Services After School Program. She participates in several community events and does very well, placing 1st in a community art competition and taking 3rd place in the “Kids On The Mile” race provided by St. Bernard’s. She’s a ray of sunshine, a force of positive energy and the sky really is the limit. Pamela is a great example of what can come from having organizations like the Hispanic Community Services staff and volunteers working together making a difference in someone’s life.