I’d like to introduce myself, my name is Stephanie Gans and I am Grace’s fellow volunteer for Wellspring UCC and the Centreville Immigration Forum. I grew up in central New Jersey, but I have lived in Virginia for the past 3 1/2 years as a student at the College of William and Mary. I graduated from W&M this year with a degree in sociology. During my time at W&M I became fluent in Spanish by taking Hispanic Studies courses, interning with Student Action with Farm workers (SAF), and studying abroad in Argentina. I could not be more excited to be here in Centreville to support the immigrant and day laborer community, as well as the efforts of Wellspring UCC! After my summer here, I will be moving to Carrboro, North Carolina to take my place in a similar faith-based volunteer program, the Johnson Internship Program.
This week Grace and I got the chance to visit the Wheaton Welcome Center in Maryland. The Wheaton center is a place where day laborers can find work in an equitable and safe environment. They also provide ESOL classes, legal aid, and financial education workshops for their members. We got to the center right before they started their lottery. The workers would write their names on the sign-in sheet in the order that they came into the center. This would be the order in which they received their lottery number. The staff of the center took out a manual bingo ball machine and put in the necessary numbered bingo balls. First they did the lottery for the skilled workers. Since only 5 skilled workers came to the center that day, there were only 5 tiny bingo balls inside the spherical cage. A staff member called up each worker by name, in the order s/he had signed into the center. Each one cranked the machine’s handle until a ball fell out, and whatever number was on that ball, was the number they were placed on the list. Meanwhile, another staff member checked each worker’s membership card. The process was repeated for all of the regular workers, except there were 22 of them so it took a little longer.
After the lottery process we got another chance to ask the staff of the center questions, and to see how workers got hired. Some of the employers who came in seemed to barrel into the office, feeling empowered to grab whichever workers they wanted. Jacinta, one of the staff members we spoke to, would make sure to stop them and have them follow the procedure for hiring workers. Other employers would come in and wait patiently for Jacinta to help them hire someone. If the employer already knew who they wanted they would ask for that person by name. Jacinta told us how important it was for the staff to know how valuable different skills and jobs were, and what a decent wage was for each type of work. This knowledge enabled her to negotiate pay equitably with employers.
Fernando, another staff member of CASA de Maryland spoke to us about how important it was for each worker to take equal responsibility in helping the center run. Each month there was an obligatory meeting for the workers, in which they would discuss how the center was running and what they could do to make it better. They also needed volunteers to do things like leave advertisements for their work on doorknobs.
Ultimately, the visit to Wheaton was a great chance to see a worker’s center in action, and to learn about how one functions behind the scenes as well. For more information about the Wheaton Center and its parent organization CASA de Maryland visit this website: http://www.casademaryland.org/programs-mainmenu-73/workers-centers-mainmenu-78