Giving Back: Maria Marin

January 29, 2014 | Chicago, IL

Maria Marin first heard about Erie Neighborhood House from a friend. She had felt frustrated by her lack of English skills for a long time. She had picked up English “here and there” and was able to communicate her basic needs, but sometimes she had to fill out forms or read important documents that she didn’t quite understand. She had even lost a job because she wasn’t able to advocate for herself sufficiently. Maria immediately knew that she needed to study, that she needed to enroll in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Two years ago, she found Erie House, enrolled in courses, and so her story began...

“Education” says Maria, “is key to understanding ourselves and to helping others”. This certainly seems to be an appropriate mantra for Maria’s life. As a young girl she remembers watching her grandfather, who knew how to read and write, help those in the community who could not. This inspired her to be a teacher, and despite growing up in a small village with little access to education, she eventually graduated with a teaching degree. She taught pre-school for the next 15 years. When she moved to the USA, she continued to work as an educator, but her lack of English prevented her from taking full advantage of job opportunities in that field.

In the level 5 English classes, Maria thrived. Her writing and speaking skills blossomed as she learned how to convey her ideas in a more complex and succinct manner. She also began taking Erie House technology classes, skills that served her well as she improved her English. She has since graduated from Basic technology and is now enrolled in Advanced level computer courses. Additionally, she forms part of the fundraising Technology Committee. Maria has encouraged others in her English class to talk as much as they could and to share their thoughts with their classmates. She even started getting her classmates together after class for English Conversation over lunch. The ESL classes helped increase Maria’s confidence in her language ability. Now, she feels comfortable approaching people in stores and other places and speaking to them in English. “I was able”, she says, “to look people in the eye when I talked to them and not be afraid”.

When Maria heard that Erie House was starting a new reading intervention program for 1st – 3rd graders, she was overjoyed. She had long bemoaned the lack of opportunity for young children in the Little Village area and so to see a new project develop was truly exciting. She started volunteering on the very first day of the program and has been there every week since. Programs like READS, says Maria “give us the opportunity to give something to the younger generation as well as become a better person. We can make a difference in every child’s life.”
The children in the READS program know that “Ms. Maria” will be there for them every single week. She has donated much more than her time, bringing in supplies, snacks, and even one day a smooth green caterpillar she had caught in a jar. Her dedication and love for education is contagious, a true testament to a cause she holds close to her heart.


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