Archive by Author

Grace — Farewell Blog

4 Aug

Steph and I both agree that this job has been the best we’ve ever worked, and we’re really sad to go.  I’ve felt sick the past two days and I think it’s because I’m stressed about leaving.  If I could rearrange the world I’d put Centreville, Virginia and Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania within five minutes’ driving distance of each other.

The summer is wrapping up nicely.  Everything is in place for the August fundraising campaign and we hope Centreville Immigration Forum’s relationship with the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) continues to grow.  NDLON has workshops and activities for the workers which we hope will continue to strengthen and empower the immigrant day labor community.  I truly hope the work Steph and I have done will prove useful when the Center opens.

I want to thank everyone who made this summer possible — no, incredible! — for us, and I especially want to thank everyone who has supported and will continue our work in our absence.  I want to thank everyone who extended their friendship, love and kindness, who made this community feel like a home away from home, and who helped us mentally process the challenges we faced this summer.

Every face I’ve met this summer remains close to my heart.  Steph and I hope to return for the opening festivities!

Que le vaya bien,

Grace

Grace — Project Updates

14 Jul

Exciting things have been happening over the past few weeks!  To name a few, we’ve made plans for the Centreville Labor Resource Center opening receptions, worked on a new Centreville Immigration Forum website, hosted a workers’ meeting to discuss questions and concerns in the jornalero community, created an advertising scheme for Wellspring, met with professional fundraisers in Washington DC to connect with potential donors, and have been collecting data on the street to provide a measure of progress/ success when the Labor Resource Center opens.

The most important thing I’ve learned to do this summer is to work with a partner as a single unit.  Stephanie and I share an unshakable solidarity in our efforts.  It’s hard to believe we only have one month left here in Centreville!  We love this job and agree it’s the best we’ve ever had.  As we approach the end we hope to maintain our momentum and preserve the presence of Centreville Immigration Forum in the day laborer community.

I hope to remember to post more frequent updates in this last few weeks.  Keep reading and enjoy the summer.

Grace — La Segunda Semana (Week 2)

20 Jun

Hello again!  This week has been very busy for Stephanie and me.  Neither of us have had the chance to really sit down and write a post until today.

This week we have been surveying the area where most of the men wait for employers to pick them up in order to approximate the average number of workers and employers who may utilize the Center when it opens.  On any given day there are about 65 workers seeking chambitas (odd jobs) and 25 employers who hire them.  By keeping track of these numbers we hope to equip the Center with adequate resources and volunteer/staff management.  While we are on the street we talk to the workers and encourage them to attend meetings to decide how the Center will be run.  This set-up process requires that the men partake in democratic decision making, which we hope empowers them with the necessary confidence to stipulate fair treatment from their employers (including fair wages and safe working conditions.)  The Center will also be equipped with bilingual volunteers and/or staff who can help match skill sets with employers to help ensure quality work for the community.

A question someone recently asked me was, “Since the Center doesn’t yet exist, how is your work changing society?  What are the tangible results?”  It’s a very good question.  At this point, everything we’re doing has to do with sustainability.  Without the community empowerment and organizing work we’re doing right now, the Center would not be BY the workers or FOR the workers.  Our role in talking to them on the streets every day is to give them the confidence and support they need to make important decisions about how the Center will be operated.  I think building trust between people is just as important as tangibles like “building a resource center” or “helping X number of workers get employed”.  For those of us motivated to do social justice work, sometimes it’s easy to overlook the importance of — or hard to truly accept — the critical importance of baby steps.  I have come to embrace “midwife” as the most adequate term to describe what Stephanie and I are doing here this summer, helping to bring the Centreville Labor Resource Center to life.  And an essential quality of a good midwife is communication.  We are currently acting as “connectors”, moving slowly and laying the proper ground work for the parturition.

Aside from surveying the street we’ve also been doing hardcore office work!  We’ve drawn up some sample advertising flyers which have been translated from English to Spanish and Korean.  Because a large segment of the Centreville population is ethnically Korean, we do not want to limit employment opportunities for the workers by only advertising the Center in English.  In addition to creating advertisements and similar materials, we’ve also been drafting important forms and documents for the Center.  These require a lot of careful thought and effort.  We want to make clear that the Center will simply be a safe place for employers and workers to meet, not a hiring agency.  The Center is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that abides by all US laws.

Today we had a great church service at Wellspring.  Each week is something new and different!  A wonderfully talented guest musician came and performed for us.  The music itself was a really moving experience — very soulful and uplifting.  I was really moved by the sermon, too.  The people at Wellspring identify themselves in various ways — old, young, black, white, Asian, Latino, Hispanic, indigenous, gay, straight, sexy, strong, extroverted, introverted, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, etc. etc. etc. — but at the heart of it all we share a human spirit, and we come to church because it uplifts that spirit; while we may have differing personal identities day-to-day we come to church and celebrate life with a collective identity as human beings.  Wellspring is the most open, welcoming, and humanly affirming place I have ever known.  I feel so lucky to be here this summer.  Now I look forward to church on Sundays — something I’ve never really looked forward to before in my life!

I will try to provide a more timely update this upcoming week.  It’ll be meetings, meetings, meetings for the next few days.

Someone said something very interesting to me this week. I’ll leave their quote here, roughly paraphrased —

There are thousands of stars in the sky, but that doesn’t make any one star unimportant.  If one star fades away, that makes the entire sky one star less bright, one star less beautiful. 

The light of every star counts.

Grace

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.

Grace