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This story was part of a project by UNC-CH journalism students in collaboration with the UNC Law School’s Center on Poverty. Some of the names have been changed.
By Christina Austin
About two years ago, a Mexican man was assaulted by teenagers outside of his Chapel Hill apartment. He had his five-year-old daughter with him, and she started to cry. Luckily, her wailing scared the attackers off.
At this point, the Gonzalez family knew they had to move from one apartment to another. Maria, the mother, said the move was one of the hardest situations she has experienced since coming to the United States, a stressful event, another incident in which the family felt “alone’’ in this country.
“Now that I know about this program, I don’t feel so alone,” she said, in an interview conducted in Spanish. (The family, consisting of undocumented immigrants, asked that their actual names not be used for publication.)
The program she is referring to is the Hispanic Outreach Initiative component at the Inter-Faith Council in Carrboro. Before connecting with IFC’s services about eight months ago, Maria said her family did not use any type of aid. Their previous apartment cost about $300 less than their new one, but they are paying the rent from the same salary earned by her husband as a mechanic’s assistant.
Gonzalez’s contact at the IFC is Rose Watson-Ormond, the Hispanic services coordinator and a May 2010 graduate of UNC-CH.
Watson-Ormond provides Maria’s family, as well as about 300 others, with food, clothing and financial aid. Families can receive food once a month and clothing once every six months.
Watson-Ormond is limited to seeing 12 individuals per day, but she says this doesn’t restrict her clients.
“I see people working hard and not just relying on our services,” she said.
She also said the IFC does not enforce that their clients, like the Gonzalez family, have documentation. The IFC does not press the issue.
Maria has used all of IFC’s Hispanic services, and she is proud to recommend those services to others.
“I can’t be selfish when I know there is help here,” she said. “I always say that there are people needier than me.”
Her husband speaks enough English to get by and her seven-year-old daughter has learned English in school. Maria, though, only speaks and understands a few words of English. She has attended a few English classes in the area, and plans to continue classes in the future.
Her daughter’s elementary school has an interpreter when needed and will sometimes send home important information in Spanish. Her daughter also acts as an interpreter.
When a child knows more English than the parents, Watson-Ormond says this often creates a feeling of powerlessness, but Maria said she does not feel this way.
By law, government-funded agencies must provide interpreters. Unfortunately, Watson-Ormond said, many organizations do not abide by this requirement.
According to Watson-Ormond, the Carrboro community health center does not have a noticeable language barrier. However, Watson-Ormond said, IFC regularly steps into help in overcoming language barriers in cases of Mexican immigrants dealing with family violence services, law enforcement and landlords in the area.