You just don’t leave anyone behind. If it’s helping them cross over their language barrier, cross over their shyness, helping them to cross over their struggles. You don’t leave them behind. You do what you can to get them across.
Arianna Moreno is a 19-year-old student at Seminole State College with a deep connection to Hope CommUnity Center. She came to the Center as a shy teenager who found it difficult to connect with her peers. HCC helped to guide her through a journey of self-discovery and personal transformation.
Arianna’s shyness came from being the daughter of two immigrant parents. Though she was born in the U.S., Arianna remembers her family experiencing challenges that few of her friends went through, including her parents struggling through difficult labor conditions at a local nursery and her mom not being allowed to chaperone for field trips. It was difficult for her to understand why her parents had different experiences than the rest of her friends’ parents.
While in high school, Arianna attended the Sin Fronteras Youth Group (Youth Group Without Borders). The connections she made there helped Arianna to realize the importance of her own story. It was a safe place for her to connect to others her age that were struggling with their own and/or their family’s immigration status.
She reflects on a memorable activity she participated in during her time with the Sin Fronteras Youth Group, La Isla, or The Island:
They had tape on the floor… different shapes. Smart people island, funny people island, pretty people island. Everyone picked the island that they thought represented them the most. Miss Nilka would scream out, ‘the Island of the Pretty Ones is drowning!’ We would help people off of their sinking island and pack them into our own island…
Arianna says that her transformation at Hope began when Director of Youth and Family Services, Nilka Melendez, listened to her story and related. Connecting with others in her situation made Arianna say to herself, “Oh, now I get it.” It helped her to realize that she is not the only person to experience the type of immigration issues her family faces.
Arianna continued her reflection of The Island activity:
The thing is just helping each other. No matter what, you would take someone into your island. Even if they’re squished. That’s how the Youth Group was. You have to help that person get across. No matter what…
Hope CommUnity Center helped to pull Arianna out of her own personal island. She finally understood why her parents were treated differently. As a member of the Youth Group Leadership Board, she facilitated group activities, like La Isla. It was her moment in the Youth Group to connect with others that were shy, isolated, or otherwise needed help understanding their own story. Arianna reflects on the meaning of The Island activity:
When you look at the deeper meaning, you just don’t leave anyone behind. If it’s helping them cross over their language barrier, cross over their shyness, helping them to cross over their struggles. You don’t leave them behind. You do what you can to get them across.
It is this spirit that motivates Arianna to keep volunteering at Hope. She is a tutor for two Adelante Caminantes students who are applying for asylum from Venezuela. Her two students are brothers adapting to a new country. They miss home but appreciate the opportunities here. Arianna in many ways can connect to their struggles as immigrants and appreciates the opportunity she has to work with the brothers and help them succeed in the U.S.
Arianna is studying at Seminole State College to become a nurse. She is a recipient of the Hope scholarship, which helped her to pay for books, supplies, and tuition. Her story of self-discovery and empowerment is, like many stories at HCC, intertwined with lifting up others and inviting them to share new islands.