For my first co-op here at Antioch, I got the opportunity to work at El Centro Inc., a non-profit organization that aims to integrate immigrant families into their communities by tackling various problems that such families face when trying to settle in the United States, including education, health, finances, and government regulations. Some of their services include free legal services; workshops discussing nutrition, pollution, police, and finances; helping people fill out STAMP forms; and job training to be a health promoter at El Centro. I had various responsibilities at my internship, but the main one was going to the homes of immigrant residents and interviewing them about their current state of health. The questions I asked concerned their comfort in the United States, the well-being of their children (especially in schools), their diet, and if they were in need of anything in particular. Oftentimes, I served as a translator as well.
Many parents really wanted me to help them with their children’s educations and would ask if there were any after-school programs that they should enlist them in. What impacted me the most, however, was interviewing people who had serious medical issues but could not address them due to a lack of health insurance. Though I was able to write down their symptoms and give this information to a doctor that worked at El Centro who would then give them advice, it was very heartbreaking to see people suffer but be unable to be treated.
My other responsibility at El Centro was teaching GED math classes in Spanish. This idea was developed in a meeting when we were discussing potential future programs and someone mentioned that a large portion of Spanish-speaking parents were pursuing a GED but their biggest challenge was math. So, during my time at El Centro, I prepared lectures three times a week and taught classes twice a week. I had a total of thirteen participants in my class, and they all were really engaged during lectures and were unafraid of asking questions. Though we did not progress at a fast pace, we still managed to cover a big portion of the high school math curriculum over the course of a month and a half. Teaching these classes started making me more passionate about education. Every single parent that came appreciated what I was doing and gave me the utmost respect—sometimes they even called me Professor Mendez!
Working at El Centro really challenged my ability to express myself in Spanish and made me consider how I could best impact the organization, which has so many programs but not enough workers to fulfill everyone’s needs. I often had to stay longer to help coworkers with a track or arrive early to prepare for an event, but the entire time that I worked I felt that I was gaining valuable experience, especially working for a non-profit organization that has so much to accomplish but with very limited resources.
Photo credit: https://www.elcentroinc.com/