Last year there was a deadly crash in our neighborhood. The driver was a husband, father, and sole breadwinner for his family. He was also the primary English speaker in the house. After emigrating from Nogales, Mexico, to America, this ESL family became well versed in making life work. However, nothing can prepare anyone for the devastation caused by a death in the family.
Following the sudden death of her husband, Maria—who spoke no English—was left with no job or income. She was the sole provider for her daughter. She felt lost and alone and trapped in a world without a voice to help her find her way out.
I remember thinking, if we could create better connections and easy access to programs and services that folks need, our disinvested communities would be stronger for knowing each other and healthier for getting what they need.
Fortunately, our neighborhood is a neighborhood of helpers. Together, we decided to create the Connector Program. We hired folks in the neighborhood to build relationships with other neighbors and to help them to access resources. We believe that in all things, relationships are the foundation for strong neighborhoods. With that value in mind, earlier that year we had hired a Spanish-speaking Connector with the goal of hiring a Hmong and Somali speaker in the coming months.
Grieving the loss of a spouse is like learning to live without a limb. So, we sent Sylvia, our Spanish-speaking Connector, over to visit with Maria and provide support. Sylvia sat with her. She grieved with her. She helped translate for all the folks that would come and offer condolences. We deeply wanted Maria to have someone in her corner.
Losing a spouse is difficult no matter how or when, but Maria’s husband died under sudden and tragic circumstances. He was killed in a police car crash—violently and unexpectedly. Beyond grief, Maria was also facing lawsuits and red tape. Her stress was further magnified by insurance confusion and difficult interactions with governmental departments (that would perplex even native English speakers).
For the next six months, Sylvia met with Maria every week. She went to court with her and to the doctor with her. Sylvia came along to meetings with funeral directors, social services counselors, and lawyers. When Sylvia was with her, Maria felt stronger, more valued, and—perhaps for the first time—like she was capable of handling the new realities of her life. Sylvia was able to advocate for Maria and tell the neighborhood what her needs were. We were then, in turn, able to surround her and support her.
Relationship-based investment in our humanity is a solid solution to building stronger communities. There are people like Maria in every neighborhood. What gifts can you share to make their world a better place?