The Columns

Changing Perspectives: Arianna Nastoff ’16 Changing Perspectives, Shepherd Intern at Centro Latino, Danville, KY

— by on November 5th, 2015

Arianna Nastoff '16

“I learned that one could make a significant difference in a short period of time with a little effort.”

Emerging from a whirlwind summer experience, I could not be more pleased with my time as a Shepherd Intern at Centro Latino in Danville, Ky. I learned that one could make a significant difference in a short period of time with a little effort. I was able to witness firsthand the significant progress made by the children who attended our camps. For instance, three of the children from our first camp had come from Mexico a mere three months prior. They could not speak a lick of English and their teachers, who did not speak Spanish, did not set time aside to teach it to them. After three months in the States, they were only able to say words like, “door”, “water”, and “chair”. On the first day of camp, the three boys were glued to the perimeter of the room, watching us with a distrustful gaze. Breaking the ice, one of my fellow interns approached these boys and said, “¿Hablan Español?” The kids were so relieved that they could finally communicate with someone that they laughed and exclaimed, “¡Gracias!” After alternating between English and Spanish for three additional 7-hour days, each of the three eager boys was better able to communicate in short English sentences. At the end of the week, the eldest of the boys ran back into the classroom, after begrudgingly leaving, to give each of us a great big hug, he spoke to us using his newly learned English, “Thank you so much.” His gratitude and excitement erased the exhaustion I accumulated throughout the difficult week. This experience gave me optimism that individualized education of children can overcome substantial obstacles.

Centro Latino is a nonprofit organization that aims to promote the Hispanic population’s self-sufficiency and independence through social justice, education and health care initiatives. As Shepherd Interns, our tasks were always interesting, and the work we conducted always felt meaningful. We ran four separate week-long, enrichment-based summer camps; canvased houses inhabited by members of the Hispanic community to assess the families’ current needs or troubles; organized a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals/Affordable Care Act (DACA/ACA) information session with Spanish speaking attorneys; assisted with English classes for adults; transported students to free art classes; and directed an early childhood intervention class throughout the week. In short, as interns, we made ourselves available to the community in virtually any capacity that was needed. We established sincere relationships with families all over Central Kentucky, some of which insisted on showing their gratitude by making us homemade art or inviting us to lunch or dinner. This internship provided valuable insight into current pressing matters of immigration and poverty. The internship also provided me a new perspective on my options regarding a future vocation.

In a broad sense, I learned a number of substantive lessons from my internship experience. I observed the unique isolation that the immigrant population experiences. Language and cultural barriers are exacerbated in a largely conservative, southern town. These barriers frustrate any attempts to build connections between the Hispanic community and the community-at-large. One of Centro Latino’s principal, but implicit, jobs is to serve as a diplomat for the Latino community. Members of the board must choose their words carefully when they explain the mission of Centro Latino to this conservative community. For example, I had to refrain from using any sympathetic language during my segment of our presentation for a grant opportunity; I could not make it seem as though Centro Latino wanted to provide the illegal population with any special benefits. I also had to distinctly clarify that we connect the population to necessary legal resources and that we do not “try to help them too much.” To see this organization compromise its idealistic goals in order to achieve results was a lesson in the importance of pragmatism. I learned that even nonprofits with altruistic purposes must make sacrifices for the sake of efficiency, diplomacy, and politics.

This internship also informed my broader goals and sense of vocation. The element I appreciated most in this organization was its effort to alleviate all facets of poverty in the Hispanic population, not just income poverty. By focusing on education, health and justice, Centro Latino has been able to increase the freedom of the Latino community in Danville. They work to eliminate their social deprivation and, eventually, economic poverty by increasing their human capital. Without all of the services that Centro Latino provides, the Hispanic population in Danville and the surrounding counties would be void of resources to help alleviate their poverty. I want to be involved in an organization that offers a range of services to holistically assist individual’s suffering from poverty. All in all, I could not have asked for a more educational or fulfilling summer experience.