Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hello to everyone from South Texas!

My name is Esmeralda Zuniga but I respond to Emi, Esmi, or genius extraordinaire. I, like my VISTA partner in crime Liz, am at the Edinburg Texas office. This is my first year in either AmeriCorps or VISTA, and it is pretty exciting. I got to meet a great group of interesting people on my PSO in New Mexico. It was beautiful and very educational, though the Juniper was out to get me; I returned intact (barely) lol.

I am, let's just say 30ish, and am raising a beautiful little girl who is the apple of my eye. She is 5 and quite precocious. If you hang around her long enough she will school you in Art, Politics, and -thanks to Google- can describe the difference between starving and famished.
A brief history, I graduated from college in 2002 from Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, GO ISLANDERS!!! I am about a semester short of my Masters from the University of Texas-Pan American. I swear the thesis will be my undoing!

I taught kindergarten for a year and decided that I didn't know how or in what way, but I wanted to make a difference in not only the children's lives, but the parents as well. I wasn't quite sure how I would do it, but trusted that if I took a giant leap of faith, somehow some way, I would find my way.

With my first summer off I began volunteering at the local political party office. I was hired to be a volunteer coordinator and before I knew it, I was the executive director. I was simultaneously heading up an Alternative Certification Program (ACP) for teaching certification. On top of public relations, marketing, and negotiations, I learned some very important things through this experience:
  1. You can survive off 4 hours of sleep a night, though it is not recommended.
  2. 15-hour workdays are a walk in the park, if you don't need things like clean laundry, showers, or time with your kids.
  3. If you serve food, they will come, no matter the crowd.
  4. If the person traveling is important enough, people will lend you an airplane.
  5. Political campaigns-though no one tells you in the beginning- are war and you can expect casualties. If you escape with your reputation intact, it's been a good day.
  6. Non-profits rock my socks off- seriously- these are people who fight the good fight and expect very little in return, which is good because they will get little more than the satisfaction of a job well done.
Through the political, I found non-profits. I begin volunteering for Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley and La Union del Pueblo Entero (L.U.P.E.). One of my proudest moments was being asked to design the shirts for the Cesar Chavez march 2 years in a row. I will happily volunteer to do them every year. I would have to say that the experience that impacted me the most was volunteering with the local arm of the 2008 Equal Voice for America's Families Campaign by the Marguerite Casey Foundation. I truly learned a lot about capacity building through them.
Around Christmas time my best friend told me that there was an opening for someone with an Education background and who possessed some of my talents. I looked into the job and wanted on board very badly. When I saw it was a VISTA position I realized I would have to take a significant pay cut to work for them, but the ultimate rewards would be more than monetary. I would be able to look back and know I made a difference in my community. I realized this was the leap of faith I had been searching for. This was the opportunity I had been looking for to make a difference in not only the children's lives but the parents as well. I had somehow, some way, come full circle and found my way.

Was it hard to make this decision? I would like to lie and say ‘Not at all, I'm magnanimous that way' but alas I would be lying. It was a tough decision to make as a single parent, but it also was sort of easy. I wanted to do something that allowed me to be a role model for my daughter. To show her that if you care about people and you put out that vibe into the universe, it eventually comes back to you.

I am proud to be an AmeriCorps VISTA, and glad that it’s with the Texas HIPPY Program.

- Esmeralda ‘Emí’ Zuñiga

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Stew Thickens

We have a few big things brewing over here in Carrollton-Farmers Branch in the HIPPY pot. Last week Carla and I met with the Head Start folks at Brookhaven College to discuss implementing the HIPPY curriculum as part of their center-based pre-K set-up. AND we had Amber Brown from UT Arlington on our side, offering to apply for a federal grant to pay for the start-up and implementation. That definitely sweetened the deal! UT Arlington apparently is interested in doing research on the effects of a child completing the HIPPY program with the Head Start program, versus a child completing Head Start alone. We already know what the results will be! We just need the data to prove it ;) They were very interested in moving forward with this initiative, so keep your fingers crossed that we secure the grant!

I've also made some progress through the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Rotary Club. It's kind of a long story how that all came about... so get comfortable :) Since January I've been volunteering at Farmers Branch Elementary through Communities in Schools. The way that works is, once a week I go and have lunch with my Kindergarten "buddy" Martin, and we work on spelling or reading or we play games, really whatever Victoria, the campus manager, plans out for us based on Martin's performance in the classroom. Meanwhile, some time in February, I sent a giant packet of HIPPY info to the Rotary Club, and when I didn't hear back right away I assumed they weren't interested. But then one day when I went to have lunch with Martin, Victoria sat down with me and said, "Hey, another of our volunteers is a Rotarian, Mr. Cross, and he called me to see what I knew about HIPPY! Would you be interested in meeting with him?" Of course I was! So we had a meeting, Mr. Cross and I, and I told him all about the HIPPY program and what it would mean for Carrollton Farmers Branch. He admitted that he had some issues with the program, but invited me to speak to the Rotary Club and make my case for a HIPPY program here. So I did! It went very well, and apparently the idea of supporting our program financially will be brought up at their next board meeting. Exciting!

So that's what I've been doing lately :) What have you been up to?

Me in my little nook, plugging away at Special Care & Career Services! Thanks to Helen for taking this picture :)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Time for Some Action by Luis

Hello World. I am Luis Rocha and I am the AmeriCorps VISTA member working with the Texas HIPPY Center in Dallas, TX.

Why AmeriCorps?

Though many people who grow up in El Paso, TX cannot wait to leave, I cannot wait to get back. It’s a unique often unappreciated place. Despite the absurdly hot summers, and howling winds in the spring, there is nothing quite as awesome as a desert sunrise, a full moon over the Franklin mountains, or the yellow poppies in the spring. And who could ever forget Chico’s Tacos.

Growing up along the US-Mexico Border, as the son of a maquiladora (Mexican-twin plant) manager and a bilingual ed teacher the struggles of those in poverty where never far from our home. I remember going to the Sun Bowl every year and looking across the Rio Grande at shanty houses less than a football field away, made of tires, cardboard, and scrap wood, while I sat in my $60 seat and munched on an overpriced nachos and soda. Maquila employees in Mexico could not afford to buy my nachos and soda with a day’s salary. It seemed wrong to me, but it would take a few years for this to move me to take action. Enter AmeriCorps.

Why Texas HIPPY?

How do you rise up out of poverty? Education. I learned quickly from my mom that without a solid foundation and parental support students are destined for failure. In her second grade classes she could already tell which students would go on to graduate and those that would struggle and fall by the wayside. HIPPY serves as a catalyst for change at all levels; family, school, and community and I want to be a part of that change. Here at Texas HIPPY we believe that “Home is Where the start Is”. It my hope I can play a small part in helping other families have a similar start to the one my home afforded me.