by Stacy Tedesco (Teacher at Thomson Elementary & Luther Place Community Member)
Testimony given to Church Council with regards to Family Ministry & Community Engagement Proposal-9/18/13
When I first heard this proposal for family community outreach, I honestly teared up a little. I would like to tell you why this moved me so much.
When I think of the families that live in this neighborhood, particularly the Latino families, I see so many things. I see a group of families who although live in the same buildings, who’s children attend the same school, seem unconnected. They lack a sense of community. I see parents trying everything they know to help their children have a better life then theirs. I also see them feeling helpless, like they are not good enough to help their children, because they lack some skills and resources. I feel that so many of these observations could be reversed by these families finding a home, a community, and a spiritual, and social life here at Luther Place.
It started with the Summer Camp. I don’t know how many people know how truly special that was to these families. During a parent meeting, before camp ever began, we had a parent cry and tell us her horror stories of trying to get her kid enrolled in another camp. She struggles with English and has only basic literacy in her native language. She found an unwelcoming environment and was ultimately unable to sign-up her child. She expressed that she was carrying this guilt, feeling that she had denied her child an opportunity. She actually cried when talking about what the summer camp meant to her and her family. She was able to provide this opportunity for her child. She felt welcome and as if we really did care about her family and her child. This was before the camp even started.
I have another quick story. Thomson Elementary, where I work, gave all students a summer assignment. We handed out summer passports. They had various activities that the student should complete over the summer. Things like: visit a museum, see a performance, go to the library, read a book with a friend. All of these things were aimed at allowing the Thomson students to experience the rich resources that DC has to offer. Everything on the passport could have been completed for free. At our first assembly of the year, the students who completed the passport were called up in front of the school and given a bag of books to add to their home library. As I took note of the students, I noticed that only one student up there, was not a Luther Place ArtSmart Summer Camp kid. The other kids had used the summer camp and the support of Luther Place to learn about their city and accomplish the summer goals set out from the school. It also began to occur to me that only one student had accomplished this, independent of the camp. This showed me that without this camp, these kids stood a slim chance of doing these great things this summer. They came back to school with experiences to write about, pictures to share, and friends to play with.
Now why, you may ask, do we, as a community, need to put money behind this idea. Isn’t welcoming them through the doors enough? In short no. First, Thomson Elementary experienced budget cuts, causing us to loose staff members and cut others to part time. We have the desire and recognize the need for a parent and community organizer but do not have the means to make it happen this year. Many questions arose after camp, involving the Lutheran Church. They knew this was not a Catholic church, which was the only church experience most parents had known. But some of the things looked somewhat familiar, what exactly was this place? I think that the proposal laid out for you tonight, presents the resources and personnel to assist in answering that question to a group of people who are interested. But I think it will do so much more! By putting money behind Olga, who is amazing, we are saying that we do not just welcome the Latino families here at Luther place, but we WANT you here, so much so that we are willing to assemble resources that help you learn about this place. We are saying that we respect the spiritual journey that you are asking for, and that we are wiling to help you along. We are saying that your family is valued, that your children have a home in our Sunday School, and that as you develop spiritually and socially, that we are willing to invest in you! That you as a person, a family and child of grace are so important, that we as a community are willing to invest our resources to help you in your journey. This population has been cast aside so many times in this neighborhood, this society and, I am sorry to say, in the public schools. The summer camp represented one of the first times that an organization said we care about you, we are with you, and we think that your family and their journeys are important.
On top of all of this, it represents a partnership with Thomson Elementary School. This idea has the support of the school. In fact when I ran this
idea by a senior staff member, she became choked up and said “please please make this happen.”
A bit about Olga Salazar. Every time I encounter Olga, she is up to something wonderful. She serves food at the Verizon center, working nights so that she can help the parents of Thomson during the day. She told me the other day that while serving food, a parent happened to be attending a game. They began to ask her questions about school, she is seen as a huge resource no matter where she is. . This is a woman who wanted to loose some weight, and recognized that obesity in the Latino community is a problem. There is now a Zumba class twice a week at Thomson! Two years ago the parents of Thomson brought the teachers lunch. It was fried chicken, cake, fried potatoes. It was delicious. Last year, we had spiced grilled meats, salads, grilled veggies. These parents, under Olga’s leadership had changed their ideas of delicious food to include healthy food. She sees opportunities to make people’s lives better, and find ways to make them happen. If that is not doing God’s work, I don’t know what is. I have often caught her helping parents look over their bills to see why they are different this month, helping people sign up for email, read report cards and make phone calls. I implore the counsel to back this proposal. These are strong, caring families, who need a spiritual home. I ask that using these people, and this money to turn
“Me Allegro que estes aqui”
“estamos major porque ella esta aqui”
I am glad you are here,
We are better because you are here.
I think that if you invest in Olga, even for a year, you will be so impressed by her commitment, work ethic and absolute kindness that you will wonder how this church was ever around without her.