When Service Learning Brings You Closer to Home: Reflections of a Milwaukee Native
The Service Learning Program recognizes the value in serving others. Often times, because the majority of the Marquette student population is from outside of Milwaukee, Marquette students experience the city’s culture, people, and community for the first time through service learning. Since many things are often new in one’s service experience, it can be easy to view the unfamiliar as the ‘other.’ Sometimes, however, our students who call Milwaukee home have the unique experience of serving their own community and giving back to the familiar place that has shaped and inspired them.
Wendy Romo, a junior studying Social Welfare and Justice and Spanish and a native to the Southside of Milwaukee is currently enrolled in the SOWJ service learning course “Practice Skills.” Through this course, she has explored interpersonal tools that can help her and her clients to communicate, build a positive working relationship, and progressively address obstacles. Wendy has had the opportunity to implement these tools twice a week as an English tutor in Empowering Latinos’ educational advancement program. Empowering Latinos, a partner with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, provides a one-one educational advancement program whose focus is teaching English for education and career advancement. Wendy has dedicated three consecutive semesters to Empowering Latinos because she has recognized the parallels between the organization’s values and her own. She has seen the barriers that her community members face when Spanish is their first and only language.
When describing why this work is especially meaningful to her, Wendy said, “This has been continually important to me because I see the need. It’s personal work because I’ve seen the ways in which my parents have struggled.” Wendy remembers her experiences as a young student when her parents had difficulty helping her with her school work simply because it was in English. Because of these personal experiences, Wendy is very familiar with the obstacles that Spanish speaking adults face who have limited interactions in English. If Spanish-speaking adults are seeking education or job advancement, their lack of proficiency in English often becomes a hindrance. Wendy and Empowering Latinos recognize these injustices and are dedicated to ensuring that Spanish-speaking adults have the opportunity to further develop their oral and written English language skills in order to progress in their educational, vocational, and social lives.
Wendy describes the partnership between Empowering Latinos and Marquette Service Learning as beneficial because it informs MU students of the realities that Spanish-speaking adults encounter and it helps to break down stereotypes about the ease of learning a language and the level of motivation it takes to learn a language. By meeting consistently throughout the semester, MU students and tutees develop a close, human relationship in which they are able to learn from one another. Tutoring helps MU students to better understand the difficulty of learning English and shows them that Spanish-speaking adults are seeking out educational opportunities to learn English in the United States.
Empowering Latinos and Wendy Romo demonstrate a dedication to their community that should teach a lesson to each of us. In order to ‘serve’ our neighbors, we must use love as our motive in helping them work toward their ultimate goal of building a self-sufficient life.