Read about the positive impact the Center for Latino Progress is having in the community.
My name is Yazmin Perez. I was born in the town of Cardonal in central-eastern Mexico. With an intense desire to accomplish something in life, I decided to move to the United States, looking for a better economic opportunity I walked two hours to school and two to return home; there were no roads nor was there electricity in my town. To enter the United States, I, at the age of 15, walked four days and nights through the desert. For the first two days, we had no food or water. An abandoned cooler with sodas we found at a ranch gave us the strength to continue walking for another half day. It was very challenging, but because of my motivation to come to this country, I kept walking. A farmer then offered to help us on our journey. A group of 15 of us climbed into a van.
After arriving in Phoenix, we took a flight to Connecticut, where we have lived in South Windsor for four years. After my first child was born, I didn’t have enough information about resources to meet his needs. I started studying on my own with inexpensive books my husband bought for me; I learned a little bit at a time. Someone connected me to the Hispanic Health Council, where I learned about other resources. Along with finding resources, I realized that as parents we had to remain involved and motivated if we were to help our children with schooling and other needs.
Having only completed eighth grade, I realized how much more I needed to learn. I decided to volunteer at my son’s school, where I learned about programs offered at the Center for Latino Progress. There I completed both the ESL and Customer Service programs. At The Center, I learned that I qualified as a DREAMER and wasted no time. With The Center’s guidance, I took the necessary steps to apply. At The Center learned about how to get my high school diploma. I needed a General Education Diploma (GED), which I completed in three months. Afterward, I continued learning English at the Adult Education Center, while working a full time job. In 2013, The Center recognized my achievements with the STARS (Student-Teacher Achievement Recognition Salute) award via VOCAL organization.
I have volunteered at my children’s school for the last five years and currently am registered at Capital Community College in the hopes of earning an Associate’s Degree in Child Development. I also am studying in preparation for my driver’s license exam.
In the long run, my goal is to become a school teacher. While I know that this will take a lot of effort and perseverance on my part, I also recognize that things do not arrive at your doorstep without any effort. To stop and wait for things to happen is to waste one’s time. Time is precious. My journey through the desert was just the beginning of my quest and my hopes of achieving the American Dream. I’m thankful for the guidance provided by some vitally important community resources.
Omaniel Ortiz joined The Center’s FUTUROS program in the Fall of his junior year of high school. Omaniel was recently accepted to the University of Connecticut and is a recipient of the Presidential Scholarship. He plans to attend the University in the Fall of 2016. The Presidential Scholarship, is a merit-based scholarship that will fund his choice of research, public service, internship, study abroad, and other enrichment activities.
Raul Irizarry, The Center’s Employer & Community Liaison, has become a mentor and personal barber for Omaniel. He stated “I’ve been able to provide him with college advice and help with financial aid through our informal conversations during our haircut sessions. It’s been great to see Omaniel’s passion arise in physical therapy and wants to build on that while at UConn.”
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.
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.
A train brought me from Chicago to Connecticut. But my education at the Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum brought me from despair to success.
My arrival here was preceded by a life full of difficult circumstances. My father abandoned our family when I was just 5 years old. By the age of 17, I lost my mother to cancer. I lost all contact with my brother after he became addicted to cocaine.
Up until the last year of my mother’s life, I was a very good student at a high school composed predominately of white students and faculty. But when my mother was dying, I found it difficult to maintain my studies and my grades. Consequently, I decided to pay a visit to my guidance counselor. I really wanted to graduate with the rest of my class. As I described my plight to her, she said to me, “You should drop out Sweetie; the odds are against you.” I was devastated. I felt rejected. At that point I believed that I had no choice but to drop out, so I did.
No mother, no school, no ambitions, no hope, and no future. That was my reality. One day I made the call that would change my life forever; I called my relatives living in Hartford. Overnight I received an envelope containing a one-way train ticket with a note that read: “It is all up to you now”. I packed my belongings. I said goodbye to Chicago and hello to Hartford.
Now my aunt and uncle had the challenge of fitting seven people in a two bedroom apartment with ONE bathroom. But one thing we Puerto Ricans know how to do is to fit a lot of people into a car or an apartment. We Puerto Ricans are ingenious that way; we know how to make a tight-knit family fit even tighter
After my aunt told me about the CPRF, I decided to check it out. I was interested in enrolling in a GED class to prepare myself for the GED exam. I passed the GED exam with flying colors and enrolled in every program offered at the Forum. The organization’s first student council elected me as secretary of the student body. In June of 1990 I graduated from the Business and Computer Skills Training Program. Just before I accepted the certificate of completion, Rosaida gave me an offer that I could not refuse: to be her Administrative Assistant.
One other unforeseen benefit of attending class at the Forum was meeting the man who would become my husband. He was a student of the Business and Computer Skills Training program at the Forum and became the first student council president. We will celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary in August. We have two beautiful children.
To say my life has greatly improved since being part of the Forum would be an understatement. My career began at the Forum. To date I have never been unemployed.
The CPRF offers not only the keys but the doors of opportunity. There are many who are oppressed by the circumstances in their lives just like I was. I urge you to continue working to ensure that resources like The CPRF are available to help people throughout our community. Together we can all make a difference.
I would like to share with you my thoughts on the purpose and value of the Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum, beginning with sentiments I expressed at my graduation in the summer of 1998.
Attending the CPRF was one of my successful experiences of development. How often do you find top level training while paying nothing and yet leaving with a respected certificate and valuable skills? I found learning at the CPRF easy if you had drive and ambition, but even if you slacked off or had an intrusive outside problem, the staff would get to you if you didn’t get to them first.
Upon leaving the CPRF, my office administration skills were sharpened, my confidence greater and I was ready to achieve my primary goal of economic stability.
As former students, we have continued to build on our knowledge, experience and marketability. One former student currently working at ING Americas with me, recently remarked to me, with delight on her face, “I started working here shortly after I left the CPRF. Now I have a real good job. It really helped me. I couldn’t even type before I went there”. This program and those like it are really a blessing for people’s personal lives and for society as a whole as it helps individuals to develop into focused, confident, capable and productive citizens which in turn reduces a host of related social ailments.
As for myself, I have gone on from Clerk, to Administrative Assistant, to Project Coordinator. Recently, I completed my Bachelors in Information Technology which along with my project management training has now qualified me to pursue an entry level project manager position in the IT field. My training and experience at the CPRF sent me on the road to economic independence in such a short space of time, so inexpensively that I can not but be grateful. At present, I and others still continue to journey up the ladder of success, and it is my commitment to never forget to help others up also. I remember telling my cousin to call the CPRF about a year and a half ago when she relocated from Florida. Unfortunately, when she called, many of the programs were no longer offered due to budget cuts. I was disappointed of course and thought what a blessing it was to have had this program available to me when I needed it. That is to say, we all have a part to play in the survival of this program and positive activities in our societies in general.
Perhaps you and I can support the CPRF by being a guest speaker, tutoring or helping the students to complete the program successfully, telling others about attending the program or by our financial support. And thank you to those of you who have already begun to do your part to make a difference in the lives of others. If we are able to and the opportunity presents itself, we should all help this program to continue to play the viable, positive role it’s been playing in individual lives and our society at large. I assure you, there is a ripple effect to the good that we do, and the returns are well worth our efforts!
That’s because 21 years ago, life was very difficult for me. I was a teenage parent, I relied upon welfare to support my child which meant limited income and an unstable home, and I was afraid for myself and my child and life just seemed hopeless.
I learned about Connecticut’s Puerto Rican Forum from an incredible mentor of mines, Lisa Candels from Family Life Education. I enrolled in a six month program held 5 days a week to develop business knowledge and skills for the workplace. Our studies consisted of literacy training, communications, typing, word processing, business writing, and analysis. We also learned about resume writing, interviewing, and dressing for the workplace to help us find jobs. The staff helped us obtain our General Education Degrees to become more marketable and connected us with businesses and organizations for graduates like me to interview for entry level positions.
My degree, studies and new-found confidence gave me a jump start to a new life. Aetna hired me as an Entry Level Clerk, providing me with a salary and benefits. Within the first year I was promoted to manage a reception area of 4 people. The company acknowledged my expertise and promoted me many more times, providing increased compensation and opportunities for professional growth.
I later enrolled in college, while working full time, and acquired my Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Resources from the University of Hartford. Today, I work for a consulting firm providing Telecom Expense Management, Voice & Data Network Engineering, IP Telephony designs, Call Center designs and Project Management.
In addition to my professional and academic achievements, I have an inspiring outlook on life and what I can accomplish for myself and my family. My accomplishments and outlook have been made possible with the help of the CT Puerto Rican Forum, and the people like you who support this great organization.
Students like me work very hard to complete their studies and graduate. The Executive Director, teachers, and staff along with the board members of the Forum are an inspiring team committed to helping all of us. Our families, our community and our local economy benefit greatly from their efforts.
After 31 years of service, the CT Puerto Rican Forum is needed more than ever to Empower Tomorrow’s Professionals.
I am here to tell you of the wonderful life I am enjoying since graduating from the Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum.
Life wasn’t so wonderful for me 10 years ago. I was 17 with a daughter nearly two years-old and receiving state assistance. The only jobs I could get were in retail where I was paid minimum wage.
I learned about the CPRF from my parents. They have always been very supportive of me. But I was very skeptical that an organization like the CPRF and free programs could offer me much help. I was so mistaken. My parents and I were amazed at the training and the opportunities the Forum provided me over the course year.
After graduating the CPRF good things immediately began to happen to me. I got a job as a clerk at the State of Connecticut’s Department of Insurance. I later became an office assistant at the Hartford Downtown Council. I enjoyed worked in the non-profit sector. Today I work at Sheldon Oak Central a not-for-profit urban development corporation. Sheldon Oak Central was founded by three church organizations in 1969 to develop the 91-unit Sheldon Oak Cooperative, the first low-income cooperative in Hartford. Since then, Sheldon Oak Central has developed over 600 units of affordable housing. I work as an Administrative Assistant, but my work allows my many other important responsibilities. I also provide information and support to the residents.
In addition to enjoying fulfilling work, I am currently enrolled in college. I am taking liberal arts courses towards a degree from Capitol Community College. I’m not sure what career I want to pursue, though I have considered work in the non-profit sector. I know I have gained so much by how non-profit programs like the Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum have helped me. I want to show others the same way. I thought it couldn’t get any better for me. Four years ago, at the age of 23, I became a homeowner with the help of Hartford Habitat for Humanity. I was extremely honored when Mayor Pérez attended my home dedication to share in that important time in my life. I am proud to live in Hartford’s Parkville neighborhood with my eleven year-old daughter goes to school nearby.
I would like to take this moment to officially thank the sponsors, collaborators and the dedicated staff of the CPRF. It was at the CPRF that I received the skills and confidence to help me acquire not only a job, but a better quality of life. Through your support, you have helped make a wonderful difference in the lives of many people just like me.
We need the CPRF to continue to serve the community and help people like me to improve their lives. To the Forum’s students, I want to assure you that a promising future awaits you when you graduate. Pay attention to the instructors. Work on your studies. I still believe in an even brighter future for myself, for my daughter, and my community. I know with the support of the Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum and all of you, that I can work to make all this happen.
I remember the day I boarded a plane and flew 4.5 hours to the USA. I was a young adult who looked forward to becoming a member of the society that was envied by the rest of the world. I found myself filling out job applications and appearing at employment sites with a folder under my arm filled with my credentials. I held onto the dictionary that would defend my translation. The day I was offered my first job at a bank, I was filled with pride because I had successfully earned my place in American society.
After working at a bank for 28 years, I was laid-off and to me, it was almost impossible to start all over again. Technology and the demands of the job market had changed radically. I thought I would complete my retirement with the bank; and live happily under the Colombian sun. But everything was shattered once I realized that I had to meet the demands of the job market. I decided to go back to school and compete with the young people who are the “key to the future”; because I am also the future regardless of my age! Then I learned about the courses offered at the CPRF; I had finally found the opportunity to start another career.
I enrolled in the program course. The class was made up of 13 students, the youngest of which was 18 and the oldest (besides me) was 46. I will leave my age to your imagination. The course was very intense, challenging, and demanding. It had been YEARS since I had been in school, so 6 hours of classes, hours of homework, and studying for exams, while also taking care of a household; was more than I could handle! At times I lacked faith in myself and was tempted to drop out. I struggled and learned all I could from the most dedicated instructors, who were demanding, yet believed in their students.
Honestly, I admire them for their patience and dedication to a community like ours. After successfully completing this course, I was placed to do my internship at the City of Hartford’s Health and Human Services Department’s HIV program as a Senior Interviewer. It was there that I applied all the training I received at the CPRF, which made me a competitive candidate for the official job opening of my internship position. I am honored to say that I am officially working in that position now. I am so grateful for my job, and I love it more and more as the days go by. There is room for professional and personal growth, as well as opportunities to branch out and serve my community. I finally feel complete – I have successfully attained a job that is relevant to my educational background and my passion to help others.
I would like to take this opportunity to especially thank all of the sponsors and collaborators of the programs at the CPRF that help excel the community. Without your support, it would not be possible for people like me to reach their goals. I have had the honor of becoming part of the Forum’s family; a family that helped me believe in myself and struggle through obstacles. A special “thank you” goes to Mr. Calixto Torres and all the staff. You have empowered and opened new avenues for all those who have participated in the Forum’s programs. You have helped make many dreams come true! You can truly say “empowering tomorrow’s professionals” is a creed that the CPRF’s staff makes come true for all their students.