Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Meet Monica Zavala, CLS Program Manager

Monica Zavala, formerly Family Outreach Coordinator for the Cook Library Scholars (CLS) Program, has an exciting new role at GAAH. While still maintaining her current work with the families in the neighborhood, she will also be heading up the special year-round academic leadership program offered at the Cook Library Center. But as she made abundantly clear, “I won’t leave the families. No way!”

Monica is the mother of three children, Emmanuel, Josue, and Joseline, who range in age of five to twelve and attend Montessori School and City Middle/High. Their involvement with the Cook Library Center was the gateway to Monica discovering her passion for the CLS program, and she took her first professional position at the Cook Library Center to be more involved with their education. “Now I have an even greater opportunity to share my input. I live in this neighborhood so I know what we need here,” she said.

Monica sees the CLS program as a privilege for the students involved and an asset to the future of the city. “They are here for a reason. They are being empowered in different areas and will be our future leaders. In only one year we are already starting to see the change in their hearts and how they are growing. Imagine when we have more years!” she said. “These are students who have been living in this neighborhood which makes them special and unique. You can go to a university and read as many books as you want, but it doesn’t give you the experience of dealing with barriers every single day and overcoming them. I know that someday, when they are in a high position and be able to make a change, they will look back and remember this neighborhood and their roots.”

When offered the promotion, Monica first called her grandmother who raised her and is her greatest inspiration. “She told me, ‘Mi hija (daughter), you can do whatever you want if you believe in yourself. I know because I raised you and I raised you well. Don't be afraid to make mistakes because that's the way you learn.’ She always pushed me,” Monica said. “That’s why I don't have an ego. If my grandma knew, she'd come here and say ‘That's not how that I raised you. Why are you behaving that way?’”

Monica has lived in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood since her family’s move from Mexico to the United States in 1988. She said her family decided to bring her here for a better life. “To move to this country was not my decision. I wanted to go back at that time. My family told me that if after a year I still didn’t like it, I could go back to Mexico,” she said. “But when I had my own kids, I noticed that there was not much in Mexico for me to continue with that mentality and knew I would not return. Here I have a better life and better opportunities. I now feel like this is also my country.”

When she was young, her aunt’s goal to be a teacher influenced her. For years she wanted to be a pre-school teacher. “I was such a dreamer, let me tell you,” she said. She attended Kent Career Technical Center for Cosmetology school, got married, worked in a salon, and then ended her education to raise her family. Monica is now taking ESL classes and has aspirations of becoming a social worker. In her free time she enjoys dancing and spending time in her craft room. “I can go in there and sew, knit, or make something. It relaxes me when I’m under stress.”

When asked about what makes this neighborhood special, Monica said, “I think Grandville Avenue is full of hard-working families. In Cook Library Scholars conferences, 100% of the families say they want a better future for their kids. They want them to graduate from high school and get a career. They just need our support,” Monica said. “Working together is going to make the biggest change.”

She also pointed out the generosity of her neighbors and friends in the area. “I know that when the kids get home, they have their warm meals and their moms care,” she said. “Sometimes I can even see my neighbors coming with a meal for me when they notice that I have been working late. They share what they have, even if they don’t have a lot. They want to share the best things they have with others.”

About her work at GAAH, Monica says, “This is not just a job. It's something that is personal because I know this is my community and my people. I am working with them and I am going to fight for them because we don't have many people who speak up,” she said. “I want to empower the families to say what they want to say.” She maintained, “It's not for popularity. It's just for the feeling I have. At the end of the day when I go to bed, my conscience is tranquil. I know that I do my best every time a family is in need.” 

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