Every year, UnidosUS launches a Photo and Story Contest for our Affiliate Network to elevate the important work we are doing together. Through this contest, we want to highlight the photos and stories of individuals or families whose lives have been changed and improved thanks to the work of our Affiliates throughout the country. This contest provides direct accounts from Affiliate community members, and we are pleased to represent all these different voices of the Latino experience in the United States.
Thank you to all our Affiliates who participated, and congratulations to our winners: Northwest Side Housing Center and Hispanic Center of Western Michigan (Hispanic Center).
UnidosUS Affiliate Northwest Side Housing Center is one of this year’s Affiliate Story Contest winners for sharing this story as told by Nereyda, one of their clients who participated in their Women Forward Chicago initiative, a Latina-centered financial education program designed to create a safe space to set goals and build financial confidence.
Thinking about their students’ busy schedule, NWSHC offers a community-style workshop, with free daycare, nutritious meals, and access to community resources to benefit them and their families. Below we present Nereyda’s story as told by her and Northwest Side Housing Center.
My family moved here from Mexico when I was 12 years old, and I learned English the hard way. In high school, I took two years of medical assistant classes because I always dreamed of working in a hospital.
But I graduated, met a man, moved to Chicago, started having kids, and paused on my career. As my children grew up, I became a Local School Council member at Schubert Elementary School, which is when I learned about the [Northwest Side Housing Center’s] Women Forward program. So, I signed up.
I wanted to do more with my life, but I didn’t know how. From the time my kids were born, they’ve been my entire life. Before Women Forward, I’d stay home, buy groceries, pick up the kids, and go back to the house. That was literally my schedule every day.
Although free childcare was provided during Women Forward workshops, it still felt like I was letting go of my kids to do something for myself. Basically, I was feeling guilty. But with Women Forward, I got so much more than I expected.
Carmen, our teacher, pushed us to focus on our financial issues. I opened a savings account and built up my credit. We talked a lot about pushing yourself emotionally to know what you wanted to do in life and to be strong for your family. By listening to other women’s challenges, I learned I’m not alone.
After I graduated from the program, Carmen connected me with Mariel from Cara Connects [co-located at the NWSHC]. She helped me enroll in Cara’s Cleanslate program, and that included a temporary job. I learned a lot of new job skills and after I completed Cleanslate, I was able to get an interview with Lurie Children’s Hospital for an Equipment Service Associate position. I was hired full-time and I’ve been there for four months.
If you would’ve asked me a year ago, “Do you think you can work in a hospital? I would’ve said ‘no.’” The excuses were endless. But now, looking back, I’m so proud. I learned that I am strong.
My children look up to me. My son tells me he’s proud of me. I want to show my two daughters that they can do anything. They can work hard and make their dreams come true. And I’m continuing to show them that by striving towards completing two of my biggest goals: buying a house and becoming a nurse!