Written by Martin Martinez, Community Engagement Coordinator at Tierra Vida
A few days ago, our community building staff announced on the WhatsApp platform that English classes were being offered in the city of Richland, 25 minutes away from our community of Tierra Vida. The announcement was well received, and people were showing interest, but a few minutes later a deeper conversation emerged. Community member Yessica Hernandez texted back in the chat and asked, “Why don’t we have a class within the community?” Residents were intrigued, quickly responding with interest, and sparking more questions. Who would be interested in attending? Who would lead the class?
I started reorganizing my thoughts from spreading the word to empowering community leaders and encouraging participation. Later, Laura Vargas, a resident of Tierra Vida called to express interest in building more connections with the community. She felt like life was calling her to grow, learn, and let go of her fears.
“Quiero hacer algo para aprender,” she shared. I want to do something to learn. I listened as she reflected on the last two years of this ongoing pandemic. “It’s time to connect with others.”
I asked Laura what she thought of English classes being offered in the community. She mentioned that she would love to join — her goal is to learn more English and eventually find a career outside of working in the fields. Suddenly, I had this great idea! Usually, people sign up for classes in my office, but my hope is for community members to feel empowered to oversee the development of an activity or program themselves, from beginning to end. This event begins with registration. I invited Laura to take part in this step and, although she shared interest, she also voiced concern. “I want to help, but I don’t know how.”
In the days following, Laura and I talked it through in detail and she volunteered to register residents for the classes. Laura and her husband, Juan Pablo, smiled as they shared their experience of connecting with their neighbors that day. While I was expecting 4-6 people to sign up, she informed me that 22 residents registered at her home!
Some neighbors offered her thanks for volunteering; some offered to support each other during classes, and others asked questions like, “Are you the one that is going to teach us English?” Surprised, she answered, “No, I’m also wanting to learn English!”
Her proud husband said that when he arrived home, Laura was sitting outside on the lawn with a small table in front of their home. “You look like a secretary!” he told her as she smiled. “An idea came to my mind: how beautiful would it be if I could get a job like this, one I could do,” said Laura.
Her daughter chimed in, “You look great mom, you should volunteer more,” a hint of encouragement for her future endeavors of growing self and community. We are so proud of our community residents for coming together around an idea and for taking leadership to bring it to fruition.