Raised in the 1950s shortly after many fathers had returned from across the oceans in defending America during World War II, I remember standing proudly each morning as we pledged our alliance to the United States of America.
Boys and girls recited “with liberty and justice for all.” Many with thick accents acquired from their countries of origin.
We memorized impassioned speeches by Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty, or give me death!”
We learned that our role as Americans was to keep the world safe, while opening our doors to refugees in search of the American dream.
Recently at Corazón Healdsburg, I was honored to meet five courageous women who are the first to complete their GED certificates with the new Corazón program.
Listening to their stories I was reminded of the very best of what it means to be an American. Stories of unimaginable hardship, perseverance and mostly of love and faith.
They spoke of their journey in America and what it means now to have a GED certificate. GED tests have opened doors nationwide to better jobs and college study for more than 20 million graduates since 1942.
With comprehensive testing on math, science, social studies and language arts, GED certificates are accepted by most U.S. colleges and employers.
Honoring its mission to bridge the racial and cultural divide in Healdsburg, Corazón fosters education from kinder-to-college. They believe education is a vital component in breaking cycles of poverty and improving quality of life.
Partnering with Santa Rosa Junior College, they have recently created a GED program in Spanish. SRJC provides the instructors and facilitates exams. Self-paced classes are held at Healdsburg Community Center, Casa de Corazón.
To ensure success, Corazón provides at no cost a safe, calm place to study, child care and financial assistance. Corazón preschool introduces children of GED students to their own education, where they also learn respect and compassion for all living things through Jane Goodall’s Roots&Shoots program.
* * *
Christina was first to receive her GED certificate from this partnership. With a middle school education from Oaxaca, Mexico, she left two children temporarily behind in Mexico with her mother to join her husband after three years of separation. The family reunited.
Years later, Christina suffered an injury, which made it impossible for her to continue tending vineyards and cleaning hotels.
Corazón helped her navigate the complicated medical system necessary to heal her hip. One thing led to another and Christina is acquiring an education she never imagined possible.
Armed with her GED, Christina is taking agriculture classes at SRJC. Learning about soils, climate, edible landscape and where plants thrive, her primary focus remains on perfecting English and learning about computers. Christina is pursuing her dream of one day owning a nursery.
* * *
Speaking with Maria, her angelic smile and enthusiasm bellied the inconceivable grief she has endured while in America.
Partnering with her husband they continue to beat all odds. Working long hours, Maria woke early and stayed up late studying books she bought at Wal-Mart and absorbing English from radio and television news, food shows and programs she could follow, including watching Sesame Street with her son.
With adequate English skills, Maria moved up in a job she loved and life was becoming easier. Then her husband lost his job. This also meant losing their home within 72 hours.
For two long months, living in a van and through the generosity of friends and local churches, they survived until finding a rental and, for her husband, a new job.
Their grit and refusal to accept defeat enabled her family to purchase their own home one year later.
The roller coaster of their lives took a downturn again when her third son was born with special needs, given three months to live. The child miraculously lived 6 years, 10 months and 21 days.
With their son’s illness and the economic downturn, they lost their home in 2013 in a short sale. Throughout these devastating times, Maria’s spirit and belief in life kept their family afloat.
Enter Corazón Healdsburg. Maria’s first love has always been education. Raised by parents who didn’t believe in educating girls, she was taken from school in sixth grade.
Her life is forever changed having passed her GED tests. Maria now has a voice in her community. Her dreams of becoming a nurse, while also training as an inspirational coach to share her experiences, are within reach.
* * *
Progress takes hold with generational change.
Carmen worked her way up from being a dishwasher in a coffee shop (a job begun four days after arriving in America) to being an assistant manager of a popular hotel within a few years.
I wanted to hear from Carmen’s 10-year old daughter, who accompanied her to the interview, about the influence of having a mother committed to a life with greater opportunities.
“Watching my mom prepare for GED tests makes me want to work harder when I have tests. It makes me feel really good that she’s studying hard and gets good grades.”
Carmen echoed the admiration I kept hearing about Corazón. How it’s opened a wide door for those who want to continue their education. How it offers support like never before in the community, making it possible for Latinos to take part in bigger things like showing up at city council meetings.
* * *
One of first recipients of the Moms-to-Moms group, Diana was introduced to Corazón. Pregnant and couch surfing, she felt alone wondering how she was going to care for her child and herself without a home or jobs making enough money to support two people.
Moms-to-Moms prepares expectant mothers for parenthood, while creating community with other moms. Diana soon made friends with people she could trust and with whom she could share her life and responsibilities.
With a 6-month old infant, Diana as a single mother working three jobs each week took advantage of the child care program to take GED classes. She is grateful to so many people. Many she has never met, who provided opportunities once unimaginable.
Diana believes Corazón is at the heart of the best things that ever happened in her life.
* * *
After graduation from high school, Sibilina was fortunate to work for years in Oaxaca, Mexico.
She then joined her husband and his family in Healdsburg, where she learned to drive and began taking classes for the GED. Sibilina appreciates being in America as a new mother.
“Things are so much easier with opportunities to go to school, develop oneself and raise a child with choices we don’t have in Mexico. It’s hard to live without my family but sometimes you have to make sacrifices,” said Sibilina, who aspires to be a physical therapist, a licensed day care provider or continue in the kitchen perfecting culinary skills.
There are so many choices. Hearing these stories I remember the first time I saw the Statue of Liberty, felt pride in singing our National Anthem.
I am in awe that people are still willing to suffer extreme hardships to become Americans.
And, I hope, like our forefathers, we find better ways to welcome them to the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.”