My name is Ana Maria Alvarez

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1 I had come to the United States dreaming of finding my mother but I ended up discovering so much more about myself. My name is Ana Maria Alvarez and I am 20 years old. I am from Guatemala I came to Mary s Center five years ago because my mother was a patient and thought it would be a good idea to enroll me in the Urbanitos Teen Program. Urbanitos is a work opportunity for high school students and it encourages future involvement in the health sciences. It was in this program that I learned about sexual relationships, contraception, pregnancy prevention, substance abuse and self-esteem. I believe that had I not enrolled in this program and learned the things I did, I would already have two children of my own. In Guatemala, I was not taught about issues such as self esteem and self improvement. My siblings and I were raised by my grandmother because my mother moved to Washington DC in search of better employment opportunities. My grandmother died when I was ten years old and I was forced to become the primary caregiver to my younger siblings. My 13 year old sister was too consumed by her own pregnancy to worry about us. My siblings and I lived alone and I had to quit school in the second grade to become a surrogate mother to my brothers and sisters. I didn t have any money and the money that my mom sent us from America was squandered by my oldest sister. I was afraid, worried, hungry and poor and responsible for two other people who depended on me. I was determined to stay strong and I focused on the day when I could see my mother again. At 15 years old, I reunited with my mother after ten years of separation. I had come to the United States dreaming of finding my mother but I ended up discovering so much more about myself. I had to learn to be courageous enough to adapt to a new culture, a new language and a new life. I had to be determined to succeed. I found this determination and support from my second family at Mary s Center. When I arrived here, I didn t know how to read and write and I was placed in 9 th grade. It was a difficult year for me and I failed the grade but that didn t stop me. I repeated the 9 th grade and became one of the best students at my school; earning only A s and B s throughout my sophomore, junior and senior years. Today, I am able to maintain my grades and work evenings cleaning office buildings in downtown DC. I am proud to say that I will graduate from high school with honors in June. I am even more proud to say that I am the only student in my school to receive a full scholarship from the University of the District of Columbia. I will study nursing in the fall and I am hopeful that I will teach others about strong will and determination. I will lead by example and I will show that I am a proud face of Mary s Center.

2 Even though I wasn t familiar with the Center and I was afraid that no one would understand me, I felt right at home the minute I walked through the door. My name is Kassech Demissie and I am 38 years old. I am from Ethiopia I came to the US in 2005 to join my husband who was studying nursing in this country. I was assigned to Mary s Center when I applied for the free health insurance provided by the District. Even though I wasn t familiar with the Center and I was afraid that no one would understand me, I felt right at home the minute I walked through the door. I was amazed by the hospitality of the Mary s Center staff and I was happy to meet so many people from my own country who were in the same situation that I was in. I was in my early stages of pregnancy and I was excited to receive prenatal care from a midwife; just like it is in my home country. I also received prenatal classes and WIC vouchers and had my very first baby shower at Mary s Center. It was here that I received gifts for my baby but I also received important information on labor and delivery, a baby s first days and breastfeeding. I also received countless other interesting information that I otherwise would not know. With the support of the Mary s Center staff, I delivered a healthy baby named Kamlak. I am very grateful to Mary s Center for providing access to quality prenatal care. My husband is now a nurse and he is looking to give back to the community the same way that Mary s Center gave to me. This support has made me happy to say that I am a proud face of Mary s Center.

3 Mary s Center truly believes in saving lives and creating stronger communities, one family at a time. My name is Luis Carrera I am from Guatemala I came to this country in 1974 to join my family. I had just finished high school in Guatemala and worked with steam boilers. When I arrived, I earned my living by cleaning carpets. Six months later, I was able to become licensed as a building engineer. I began to work for a company as their maintenance manager while I studied electronic engineering. I then proceeded to go to vocational school where I received my diploma and became a Journeyman Electrician. As an electrician, I was able to join a union and became a member of the Local Union 26. I have been a union member since 1980 and I currently work for the Washington Convention Center as an electrician. I came to Mary s Center five years ago. I lived close to one of their locations and I heard great things about them. One day I needed emergency care and I decided to receive care at Mary s Center. I was right in my decision because I really liked the way I was treated and I felt at home with the environment and with the staff. I had full health care coverage through my work and I already had doctor elsewhere, but I decided that Mary s Center was a better fit for me and my family. The staff really cared about us and wanted to make us feel right at home. They understood my language and they understood my culture. So impressed that in 2005, I was elected as a member of Mary s Center s Board of Directors and now serve as Vice Chairman of the Board. I became involved with Mary s Center s board because I wanted to help improve the Center s services and I wanted to be the link between the participants and the board. I have also used my leadership skills as a member of the Participant Advisory Council which is made up of people who use Mary s Center and serves as a training ground for future Board of Directors members. I try to help participants understand the role of a board member and how they can help improve the services received through their suggestions, ideas and even complaints. I am proud to say that I am always advocating for the well being of the staff and the participants. I acknowledge and appreciate the opportunity given to me to be an advocate and a voice for the community. I believe that advocacy is an important component to change and I am proud to witness and be a part of Mary s Center s growth and change. These changes benefit my community and all communities throughout the Washington DC metropolitan area. Mary s Center truly believes in saving lives and creating stronger communities, one family at a time. I am happy to say that I am a proud face of Mary s Center

4 Words have power. I learned this when I participated in a CDA presentation encouraging us to be good parents and good teachers. My name is Shalinee Gusain I am from India I came to Washington, DC from Delhi in 2007 to join my husband. I am a mother of two children; my son is 7 years old and my daughter is almost 4 years old. Mary s Center has helped my family in so many ways. One way is that our family is part of many programs that Mary s Center offers. We belong to the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition (WIC) program and I attend Even Start and Child Development Associate (CDA) classes. The WIC program provides nutrition to my daughter and helps our family maintain good health. I also attend the Mary s Center Even Start Program. This is a program where everyone is equal regardless of their background or educational level. When I enrolled in Even Start, my daughter was 2 years old. She could barely speak and communicate in English. After being in Even Start for a few months, her communications skills have improved greatly. Now, my daughter can speak in both English and Spanish and she speaks Hindi at home without any mistakes. Words have power. I learned this when I participated in a CDA presentation encouraging us to be good parents and good teachers. By participating in CDA courses, I have learned to control my behavior and do what is best for my child, my family and me. I am really inspired by the teachers at Mary s Center. They are unique in their own ways of teaching. In their classes, I have evolved into a confident person and have gotten rid of all my mental blocks. In India, a woman undergoes lots of restrictions during her life cycle. I came to Mary s Center with this kind of baggage and now my baggage is gone. There is a new person emerging inside of me. I have always dreamt about becoming a leader. In September, I was elected to be one of the ESF/Even Start Student Council representatives. I was also nominated to be a Board member of the charter school. My Mary s Center mentors have never missed any opportunity to help me in building leadership qualities. I see myself as being made brick by brick. I have learned so much in the short time that I have been a participant at Mary s Center. I have learned to receive the life skills and gifts that Mary s Center has offered and then pass them onto the next generation. I want to thank everyone at Mary s Center who has helped me to build my life skills and say that I am a proud face of Mary s Center

5 I can t imagine what my life would be like without Mary s Center s support. My name is Thy Tran and I am 32 years old. I am from Vietnam I came to the US in 2005 and I came to know Mary s Center because a friend told me that they had a Vietnamese outreach worker who could help me. I needed help because I was two months pregnant and I didn t know the country, the city or the language and I did not have health insurance coverage. You can imagine my relief when I discovered that there was someone I could depend on someone who could understand my culture and my language and who could guide me through the system. My Vietnamese outreach worker quickly became my support for anything I needed both inside and outside of Mary s Center. Within Mary s Center, my outreach worker helped me to apply for health insurance coverage through DC Health Care Alliance and helped me to make my appointments for prenatal care. He introduced me to programs such as the WIC Program and mental health services and I am grateful because these programs helped me get through difficult times during my pregnancy. My outreach worker went out of his way to help me with so many things. He helped me to enroll in English classes at a Vietnamese community agency and he gave me information about additional resources that were useful in making the transition to a new country and a new community. Throughout the years, I have continued to use my outreach worker as a valuable resource. He has done so much for me. He has even assisted me in applying for vouchers that help to pay for my daughter s daycare. I still struggle with the language but I feel more comfortable knowing that there are people at Mary s Center who are willing to help; not because they have to but because they want to. I can t imagine what my life would be like without Mary s Center s support. It is because of this support that I am happy to say that I am a proud face of Mary s Center.

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