Human language

Holiday Fund: where learning English is ‘medicine for the people’ | New

From her earliest childhood, Sister Trinitas Hernandez wished to follow the path of Rosalie Rendu, nun of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul in the 19th century. Rendu had devoted his life to helping the poor in French slums at a time of great human influx due to the industrial revolution. In East Palo Alto, Sister Trinitas did the same.

Small and energetic with shining eyes and a keen intelligence, Sister Trinitas joined the charitable order at the age of 18. When she arrived in East Palo Alto in 1997, she was looking for a project that would bring her into the community. As in Rendu days, many new immigrants came to the Bay Area in search of work and better lives. They often struggle to adapt and grow in their new community, and a lack of fundamental language skills can keep them in poverty, she noted.

One day a woman asked for help learning English. Sister Trinitas, affectionately known as Sister T, said she was not a teacher. The woman said that because Sister Trinitas could speak and read English, it was enough. Sister Trinitas won her first pupil. Twenty-three years later, she still teaches through the Rosalie Rendu Center, which she founded and directs as Executive Director.

The educational center for Latin American mothers and families aims to break the cycle of poverty through English as a second language, life skills and acculturation classes. It serves 90 to 100 people per year through ESL classes, one-on-one conversational English mentors, field trips and citizenship classes.

Student Gloria Del Rio said parents learn to encourage and support their children through parenting workshops.

“Most of the students are from Mexico and we have a different culture. The sisters help mothers to learn about life here and to be better educated, ”she said.

Del Rio said classes taught him to deal with stress and listen to his children. Comradeship with other women creates a sense of shared community.

Before arriving at Rosalie Rendu, she was not interested in learning English although she had lived in California for many years. There wasn’t much incentive since she could get by with performers or her children. Then she joined in school projects with mothers who came to the center, and it changed her life.

“Once I started I couldn’t stop,” said Del Rio, a dark-haired mother of four, as she sat at the house’s spacious dining table. downtown, located at 2345 Pulgas Ave., East Palo Alto.

Now in his third year, Del Rio is fluent in English and understands the language without hesitation.

“The teachers are nice to us. They understand that coming here is a big effort, and some mothers are working,” she said, noting that classes adapt to staggered schedules.

Before coming to the center, Del Rio often refrained from asking questions in his children’s schools.

“I could only say ‘My name is Gloria’,” she recalls.

Now she feels more confident and is an active part of the school community.

“I don’t need to ask for an interpreter at school and at the doctor anymore now. We don’t feel embarrassed,” she said. “I used to hide. I just did what I had to do.”

Del Rio said the center has helped her become less dependent on her husband and children. Thanks to her fluency in English, she is now free to get what she needs on her own, for example when shopping at the store.

“My family is proud. I’m doing something for myself. Maybe it’s a good example for them to see me train. They know I’m here and it teaches them to be brave and to participate,” said she declared.

Del Rio’s example helped inspire his children to perform well. A son attends the University of California, Davis and studies biochemical engineering; her daughter is studying to be a dentist. Her two other sons are in second year and first year at the Menlo school.

Del Rio also used his linguistic powers to protect his community and not be a victim.

“Once there was an ice cream parlor and I saw two boys trying to rob him in the apartments. I called the police,” she said.

Another time, Del Rio was in a car accident and the other person left the scene when Del Rio requested to exchange information about his driver’s license and insurance. Del Rio called the police again. Officers tracked down the license plate number she managed to write down, attended the woman’s home and brought her back to give the information to Del Rio, she said. Having such language skills and understanding the system is empowering, she said.

Like its students, the center has taken on its own challenges. At the end of 2019, just at the start of the pandemic, the center lost its long-standing location at Carriage Manor Apartments.

Each day, Sister Trinitas prayed, asking God to help her find a new location, she said. One day in the spring of 2020, she learned that a student named Marina had moved to Nevada to be near her family after her husband died. She was selling her house and was not coming back to East Palo Alto.

“Right away I asked, ‘Will you sell it to me? “And three weeks later, we signed on the dotted line,” Sister Trinitas said. “The good Lord sent us this house. I feel in the bottom of my heart that it is a miracle.”

The center moved into its new home in June 2020. Photos of Sister Rosalie Rendu, resplendent in the white hat and starched into a “seagull’s wing,” or the cornette, for which the Catholic order is known, adorn the walls of the center lounge.

Getting through the COVID-19 pandemic while renovating the house and yard took time, a lot of financial resources, and volunteer help. Students needed to know how to download Zoom to their phone in order to continue learning English via distance learning. The first week was uneven, but the second week things went smoothly, said program director Maria Lozano.

The center has created a distance tutoring program that pairs college and high school students with the youngest children of the centre’s parents. The center purchased a three-month subscription to Kiwi Kits, a practical science kit, for 22 children, which was delivered to the children’s homes, with classes continuing on Zoom this school year.

StreetCode Academy, another East Palo Alto nonprofit, loaned the centre’s laptops to meet all student needs. The centre’s volunteer computer teacher downloaded software to laptops, edited an instructional video, and helped the students connect to their home internet networks.

The Rosalie Rendu Center provided emergency funding to families for food and rent who were unemployed due to the pandemic. It has also contracted with One Life Counseling Center to provide counseling services to parents who need professional support and who are facing housing, health and employment issues during the pandemic, Lozano said. .

The center used its $ 5,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund to purchase indoor and outdoor furniture and fixtures and classroom items for the new location and for equipment and a daily cleaning service to keep the center going. disinfected against COVID-19.

Recently, student Silvia Monaco and volunteer Susan Stulz sat at a table in the leafy garden and spoke mainly in English. One-on-one conversation sessions are beneficial for both women. Stulz, from Los Altos Hills, wanted to learn Spanish, while Monaco needed to improve their English to get a better job.

A hospital nurse in her native El Salvador, she now works in the collective care communities for the elderly in the Bay Area. Finding a job has at times been difficult because she doesn’t speak English well, she said, and part of caring for a patient involves communication.

As a hospital nurse, touching and talking to patients gently, along with medication, helps them heal faster, she said. Not speaking English has restricted her powers as a healer, which she hopes to remedy.

“Medicine for the people is the language,” she said.

The Holiday Fund’s annual charitable giving campaign is in full swing, with a goal of raising $ 500,000 for local nonprofits serving children and families. For more information on the Holiday Fund and to make a donation, visit