Grace — La Primera Semana (Week One)

7 Jun

Hello Virginians!

My name is Grace and I am a UCC/Alliance of Baptists Summer Communities of Service volunteer for the Wellspring United Church of Christ in Centreville, Virginia.  Commitment to service and social justice shape and define my life. I am an Honors student at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania studying Geography.  After graduation I intend to pursue a career in community development.  In the past I have volunteered with Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi, Habitat for Humanity, served as a student liaison and advocate as Student Government President, Co-Chaired my college’s first annual Relay for Life, and taught children in two schools for disadvantaged children in Haryana, India.  All my friends share a commitment to service; with our small, dedicated team we set out to accomplish what we can.

I have left my family in Pennsylvania to work as a “midwife” for ten weeks, birthing the Centreville Labor Resource Center in order to meet a much-needed demand for an equitable system of labor distribution among day laborers as well as neighborhood peace.  I’ve come to Centreville with an eagerness to learn and to help.

Stephanie and I will update this blog regularly throughout the summer as the project progresses.  The Centreville Immigration Forum is a place where many differing viewpoints intersect in expression.  We hope this blog will be a voice of optimism, courage, hope and positivity.

It’s Tuesday afternoon and already my summer (I suppose it’s technically still spring, even though it’s really hot and doesn’t feel like spring AT ALL) is ten percent over.  Since Sunday morning Stephanie and I have worked 21 hours and been in and out of Washington DC twice.  We’ve definitely been busy!

On Sunday Stephanie and I went to the library and helped teach English to some of the workers.  Steph worked with the less advanced English speakers and I worked with the more advanced.  (Stephanie speaks fluent Spanish; I have a long way to go.)  There were two students in my group.  They were both better at spoken English than written, but they are both shy about their English and speak softly.  At the end of the lesson both thanked me profusely for helping them.  I was kind of surprised because I wasn’t sure how effective the lesson had been, particularly considering that my Spanish isn’t fluent and I had difficulty answering some of their questions.  Perhaps they do not feel entitled to assistance or attention in this country and are really grateful for the help they do receive.

On Monday, Stephanie, Alice (CIF President) and I went to the shopping center where many day laborers congregate and wait for someone to drive by and offer them a job.  During the time we were there I counted approximately 40 workers on the street; my estimate is that there are really at least 50 “on the corner” every day.  One of the goals of the Centreville Labor Resource Center is to get the men off the streets and provide them with a more equitable system for gaining employment — in many cases, employers simply drive up to the curb and the first man to touch the vehicle gets the job.  This probably scares off many potential employers who might hire a laborer for odd domestic or landscaping jobs — having ten or twenty men rush at your car, trying to open the doors and get in (all while speaking in a foreign language) can be intimidating.  For other workers who have prearrangements with employers, the CLRC will keep them out of the blazing heat (and frigid cold, come winter.)  We asked all the workers what they thought of the idea of a day laborers’ center.  About half seemed skeptical as to whether our plan would or even could come to fruition; the other half were open and supportive.

Today we went out on the street again with O., or “doña” as the workers call her.  She encourages the workers to improve their English skills so they can get better jobs.  In her big black bag she carries a variety of ESL materials she tailored specifically for the workers’ interests and needs.  We ended up speaking with a worker from Guatemala for more than an hour.  He talked about life in his home country and life in the United States.  He has lived here for about four years and does not know when or if he can go home.  He said he misses the shared spaces in his home country, such as plazas, parks, and markets.  He told us there is a song in Guatemala about a “cage of gold” which sort of sums up the distribution of space between people in America.  Americans have a lot of individual space but not many places designed specifically for people to commune and meet informally together.  As a geography student, I thought it was an interesting observation.

Last night Stephanie and I went to the Universalist National Memorial Church in Washington DC for their Interfaith Pride Week Service.  It was “fabulous”, to use a buzzword from the evening!  I rarely go to church services back home because I don’t have the patience to sit through a sermon on Sunday morning.  The IPWS was perfect because it never stopped moving — just as the LGBTQIA movement never stops pushing forward.  Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, and other religions came together to celebrate and affirm the place of the LGBTQIA community in all faith traditions.  The ceremony captivated every sense — the Catholics burned incense, live music was played throughout the entire evening, and everyone sang, chanted, shook each others’ hands, and offered words of support.  It was pretty much the penultimate worship experience.  I was glad to have had the opportunity to go.

Well, I think that covers everything for now.  We are also doing a lot of office and paperwork but the fruits of our labor are yet to ripen.  I am pleased with how smoothly everything has run so far and hope it continues to for the remainder of the summer.



2 Responses to “Grace — La Primera Semana (Week One)”

  1. Alice Foltz June 14, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    Lots of activities in the first week! It is inspirational to see Grace & Stephanie bring their energy & skills to all the things we have to do.

  2. Jerry June 14, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    Grace, thanks for the great report, and also the affirmation of the inter-faith Pride worship. It was unique in my experience also, and wonderful. I was disappointed that I did not see other UCC people there. But I know many of them were working on the float for the DC Pride parade at the end of the week. Still, I would have hoped for some to come.
    Blessings to you and Stephanie for all your are doing. And it only takes caring to simply give people attention and listen to them, as we do in ESOL sessions. The language learning is extra, and very helpful also.

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