One day, while out for a walk with her children, Claudia stumbled across the Wellstone Center. Excited to learn that Neighborhood House offered free English classes, she quickly enrolled and began attending daily classes. For several weeks Claudia attended classes, but didn’t say much. She knew some English, but didn’t speak because she was nervous. Gradually, supportive teachers recognized her English skills and helped her develop the confidence to take exams and advance to more challenging levels.
Claudia’s mornings were filled with classes, but she didn’t have much to do during the afternoon hours. A former physical education teacher from the Mexican state of Zacatecas, Claudia doesn’t enjoy sitting around. “I like to help people,” she says. “I like to work.” One of her English teachers at Neighborhood House recommended that she look for volunteer opportunities that would allow her to use her skills and practice her emerging English. Claudia jumped at the opportunity to volunteer with children in Neighborhood House’s Skills for School preschool classroom.
From the moment she began volunteering, it was clear that Claudia had a gift for working with children. On her first day, she sought out Hannah – a shy little girl who hadn’t yet spoken in class – and the two became fast friends. With Claudia’s help Hannah began to learn the language of the classroom and became a star student. Danielle DeRose, a child development specialist, has worked alongside Claudia since 2014 and is amazed by her dedication to the students. “It only takes a few minutes of watching Claudia in the classroom to notice her genuine passion for teaching. She puts all of her heart into building relationships with the children, and they absolutely adore her. We are so fortunate to have Claudia’s wisdom and positive energy in our classroom.”
In English classes and while volunteering, Claudia feels safe and confident. As her English has improved, she has begun to branch out and find ways to become involved in the community outside of Neighborhood House by coaching two different soccer teams.
When asked what dreams she has for children in the classroom, Claudia reflects on her own experiences with prejudice. Even at a young age she sees children naturally separating into groups by language and skin color, but she’s hopeful that experiencing diversity at a young age will promote a more tolerant future. “The kids are really smart, and I hope being in the classroom together will help them to grow up appreciating diversity. I hope they become friends, because a love for all cultures is important.”