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Buenas noches a todos y todas. Mi nombre es Virginia Kase y estoy aqui esta noche para compartir mi experiencia en El Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum. I walked through the doors of the Puerto Rican Forum for the first time in the fall of 1989 when it was located above a pharmacy on the corner of Park & Washington Streets. Anyone who is from Hartford knows what the social and economic climate was like back then. It was a sad time for the city, very much like it is now. For those of you who weren’t around I’ll share some interesting facts with you. According to 1990 Census data for Hartford, 45% of adults living in the Frog Hollow section the city, where the Forum was located at the time, lived in poverty. 61.2% of children from the same neighborhood lived in poverty and 53% of people under the age of 25 had no high school diploma and were not in school. This was my reality and the odds were against me. At age 17 I was a high school dropout living in a two bedroom apartment with seven other people. Had it not been for government assistance we would not have had food in our home. Life seemed bleak and although I knew that I wanted better, I did not know how to go about pursing it on my own. However, that all changed when I saw my friend Marisol Jimenez attend the Puerto Rican Forum earlier that year. I watched her go from a single mother and high school dropout to a program graduate with a good job at Aetna. Her commitment to creating a better life for herself and her daughter inspired me to sign up for the program as well.
The classes at the Forum were not particularly difficult for me as I had always been a pretty good student. What I found difficult was the adult expectations that were placed upon me. I wasn’t required just to show up each day, but to dress and act professionally – something I did not know how to do. However, the staff treated me with patience and kindness so that I could learn to do so. In time my confidence grew and in January of 1990 I completed the Business Computer Skills Training, earned my high school diploma and was placed in an internship at CIGNA where I eventually was hired as a clerk in the Underwriting Department.
This could have been the end of my story but it wasn’t. You see, despite all of the efforts of the staff at the Puerto Rican Forum, I was the worst clerk to ever work at CIGNA! This was not because I didn’t have the skills to do the job or because they hadn’t trained me well. On the contrary; I was more than competent. I was just totally unmotivated to do the work because I wasn’t doing what made me happy. I had yet to find my passion. As a result – and to the disappointment of the job placement specialist at the Forum, my employment there lasted less than a year. You see what I learned was that although I had gained a valuable skill set that allowed me to work a job, I didn’t want to be a clerk. I wanted to be like the staff at the Puerto Rican Forum who had helped me. Like them, I wanted to serve others.
Eventually, I found my passion. I went on to work in different capacities at the Capital Region Education Council here in Hartford, including managing workforce development programming for youth ages 18-24. I also went on to co-found a non-profit organization that served current and former youth gang members seeking to change their lives. After years of hard work I eventually landed a management position with a national non-profit organization in Washington, DC where I served as the National Technical Assistance and Training Manager for nearly nine years. I have had the great opportunity of testifying in front of Congress, attended meetings at the White House and worked on a variety of legislative efforts. However, over the past year or so I began to feel unfulfilled in my work. I had spent so much time working on national issues that I no longer felt like I was making an impact in the lives of the people I started off wanting to serve so many years ago. I realized that I had gotten caught up in fancy titles and a seemingly important job but I was completely unfulfilled. I knew that it was time to return to my passion. As it so happens a position came open with my current employer and in May of this year I became the Director of Education & Welcome Centers for CASA de Maryland. Ironically, I am doing exactly what the staff at the Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum does and what they inspired me to do so many years ago when I graduated the program. I oversee the largest ESOL program in the state of Maryland and manage five Welcome Center. These centers provide education, workforce development and vocational training, social services, and power building opportunities for low-income Latinos and other immigrants throughout the state of Maryland. It is an amazing feeling to be back in the community, doing what I love most – serving others.
Had it not been for my time at the Puerto Rican Forum my life most certainly would not have turned out the way that it has. You see, the Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum did not just teach me skills to do a job. It taught me confidence and to dream and believe that I could do anything I wanted to do with my life. I learned that my circumstances did not dictate my future but rather I was the master of my destiny.
In closing ladies and gentlemen, I urge you to support the work that is being done here at the Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum. Your investment will most surely transform the life of a deserving individual who without your support may never fully realize their potential. I can think of no better reason or a better organization to support. Thank you.