Hortensia is the kind of woman that lights up a room. Her radiating smile brings a special kind of positive energy to a space. We are lucky enough to have her on our staff here at Adelante Mujeres. She’s an Infant and Toddler Teacher in our Early Childhood Education Program where she’s been teaching for the past three years.
Inside Hortensia’s classroom there is always something fun going on. It feels like a party: singing, dancing, arts and crafts, dressing up in costumes. The children laugh and play, create and dance.
Like several of our staff members here at Adelante Mujeres, Hortensia began as a participant in our Adult Education Program. Originally from Michoacán, Mexico, she finished the 9th grade in High School — the last grade of High School in Mexico. When she was 17 years old she began teaching in rural villages through a government teaching program. For a small amount of pay, she traveled out to the small villages without electricity and taught classes to the children in the area. “I really, really loved that place,” she said.
When she was 23, she immigrated to the U.S. to be closer to her brothers and sisters who all lived in Oregon. But things for her were difficult when she got to the U.S. because of the language barrier. “The only place that I went to on the weekends was the store to get clothes or food. The first year was terrible.”
Her first job was making Christmas wreaths, and after that she worked other various jobs such as helping at a Vietnamese restaurant, working in the fields harvesting grapes, and landscaping with her brother.
“I liked my job, but my kids were going to school and growing up and I was thinking that I like what I’m doing but I need to help my children. Sometimes they asked me to help with their homework, and sometimes I can do it because it was in Spanish, but sometimes it was in English and I couldn’t help them,” said Hortensia. “So I told my husband that I wanted to start going to school.”
She got the number of Adelante Mujeres from her friend and talked to our Adult Education teacher at that time, who told her, “You’re not only going to learn English here. You’re going to take parenting classes, ESPERE classes, leadership, and many things. And you’re going to have the opportunity to get your GED.” Hortensia remembers saying, “I can get my GED?!” It was something she hadn’t thought of yet.
The Adult Education schedule was perfect for her since the classes would be at the same time that her kids were in school. But she knew it would be a sacrifice. “I know we need the money,” she thought, “I know I need to go back to work, but I need this opportunity. I want to go to school.”
“I told myself, ‘You have this chance again to do it. Do it.’ ”
So she took a leap of faith and enrolled. Over the next year, she studied hard and gave it everything she had to give. She did homework alongside her children in the evenings, and sometimes they helped her with her English.
After one year and one quarter of taking our Adult Education classes, Hortensia passed all of her GED exams and had learned a good amount of English. She began looking for jobs and eventually started working with elderly folks. She loved the people she took care of, but after a few years, the work started to take a toll on her. “Everything that they feel, I feel,” said Hortensia. “Many times when they were sick, I would cry as I drove home from work, thinking that I wanted to help them more. But it was not in my hands to help them.” The job became emotionally tiring for her, and the long 12-hour days were keeping her from spending time with her kids. So she decided to leave the job and look for something different.
A friend told her about job openings at Adelante Mujeres in our Early Childhood Education Program, but Hortensia felt like she had no chance so she didn’t apply. But while attending a Chicas workshop with her daughter, Patricia, our Director of Education, saw Hortensia and told her again about the open positions at Adelante and urged her to apply. “I thought ‘Okay, I’m going to apply, but I know they aren’t going to call me. But let me apply,’ ” said Hortensia.
Her friend helped her fill out the online application for the Early Childhood Education Teacher position and soon Hortensia received a call from Adelante Mujeres saying they wanted her to come in for an interview. Going into the interview she was nervous, but tried to stay calm. She remembers thinking, “It’s okay. They are going to ask me things and I’m going to answer, and I know they aren’t going to pick me anyways.”
But they did pick her.
“When they called me I was ‘Ahhh’, screaming!”
“I didn’t have any experience. I had never been in a classroom, and they gave me that opportunity to be a teacher in a classroom. So it was like, if they believe in me, why don’t I believe in myself, too. I can do it.”
Adelante Mujeres helped Hortensia get training and her teacher certification, and she’s also been learning how to work with the parents.
Hiring former participants is something that has always been at the core of Adelante Mujeres. “The first participant we hired was Rebeca Gomez,” said Bridget Cooke, Co-founder and Executive Director of Adelante Mujers. “She had been a student in our Adult Education Program. I believe this was in 2007. Since then we have hired many more. In 2015 we had the opportunity to grow our Early Childhood Education Program. We immediately reached out to our former participants. We connected with some who had demonstrated both a love for and an ability to work with children, as well as strong leadership skills.” Currently, 17% of Adelante Mujeres staff members are former program participants.
“Being able to hire former participants is the finest confirmation we could ask for of Adelante’s impact,” said Bridget. “They’ve lived the journey of empowerment — confronted their fears, overcame obstacles, and accomplished their goals.
Former participants know that with persistence and hard work it’s possible to reach their dreams. Plus, they share this belief with the new participants they now serve. Staff who were former participants are also grounded 100% in the community we serve and in Adelante’s mission, vision and culture.”
Hortensia has always loved dance and, as a part-time Zumba instructor, dance naturally always finds its way into her classroom — and the kids love it. Hortensia says, “I love music, and I think music changes things. If a kid is sad, maybe I can put on some funny music, or just sit with them and talk.”
Hortensia clearly has a natural ability to connect with the children in our Early Childhood Education Program. They watch her with admiring eyes and laugh with her as they sing and dance.
“I don’t know how things are going in their house. And that time they spend in the classroom, I want them to be happy.”
Her favorite part about teaching? “When they laugh and they don’t know that they are learning,” says Hortensia. “When they are laughing, when they are smiling, that tells me that they feel safe, they are happy, and they feel okay being away from their parents.”
Watching Hortensia teach, one thing is very clear: It isn’t Hortensia who is lucky to have landed this job. It is us, Adelante Mujeres, that is lucky to have an amazing teacher like Hortensia on our team.