Like the chance traveler in the parable (The Good Samaritan) we need only have a pure and simple desire to be a people, a community constant and tireless in the effort to include, integrate, and lift up the fallen.Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, #71
I make bold to quote Pope Francis, that great champion of immigrants. It is not a boast, but a humble affirmation that the work here at Centro Corazón de Maria is all about including, integrating, and lifting up our Latino immigrant brothers and sisters. Hampton Bays, Long Island is 30% Latino and the elementary school enrollment is 66% Latino. The support of the RSHM and their benefactors is what makes it possible to do the work. We are all connected.
English as a Second Language (ESL)
The ministry is threefold. First, as part of the long and strong tradition of the RSHM, we offer a space for education. English as a Second Language (ESL) is the anchor of that educational effort, with 30 to 40 women participating twice a week in the morning classes from Monday to Thursday. Since most students are young mothers, short skills classes are also offered from October to April in partnership with other agencies. Excellent bilingual professionals come to lecture or give hands-on practice in nutrition, parenting skills, civic engagement, workers’ rights, and other topics as needed. Of course, where there are moms there are kids! All classes have childcare provision. Our skilled and loving childcare workers are paid for their work – a provision that not only assures the stability of the workers, but also provides the women who work with us a satisfying way to use their skills and contribute to their own immigrant neighbors’ needs.
The second component is a drop-in center staffed by a counselor and a social worker. We screen each person and evaluate needs. We provide short-term counseling; facilitate communication between parents and local schools; negotiate hospital and utility bills; fund and administer an emergency cash assistance program; and handle applications for government programs such as SNAP. We logged 850 in-person visits last year, despite the pandemic. This year we are on track to greatly surpass that number. This is partly due to our participation in the New York State “Excluded Workers Fund” which gave a subsidy of $15,600 to qualified workers who lost work during the pandemic but did not qualify for unemployment benefits. Through a New York State grant, we screened 170 candidates for the benefit. More than 80 met the rigorous state criteria.
The third component of our work is advocacy. For example, Centro Corazón was an active member of the coalition that pressed the New York State legislature to allocate money for the “Excluded Workers Fund.” We served those excluded workers during the dark months of 2020. Their income simply collapsed from one day to the next. Immigrants who work in landscaping, restaurants, childcare, food markets, healthcare, housecleaning, laundries — essential workers who do not have work permits — were unable to qualify for unemployment benefits. The grave injustice touches upon the complex question of immigration reform. So often I wish that more people understood the struggle and uncertainty our immigrant brothers and sisters bear! Yes, it is a complex issue, but as Pope Francis often reminds us, the plight of immigrants calls out for just solutions. Meanwhile, counting on your prayers and solidarity, we strive to make a difference, confident that our efforts give hope and encouragement to those we serve.