The Center Celebrates its 30th Anniversary (1983-2013)
Celebrations are joyous events! As we celebrate our 30th anniversary, there is so much to be joyful about. The hard work of our founders, Fr. Angel and Sr. Margie, and the hard work we continue today has changed the lives of many, many of our students. Today, as always, we realize that our mission is both classroom education, as well as the care of the individual (self-respect, self-esteem, personal responsibility, service to others, and violence free lives).
Here, four women, spanning four generations, share their insights and answers to the question: How has the Center shaped your life? Their stories are stories of courage and transformation, and they represent the stories of many of our students.
Lillian Dávila, 56, began attending the weekly Mass celebrated by Fr. Ángel soon after he arrived in 1983. Soon, she studied sewing and took other courses with women from the neighborhood, eventually becoming an elementary school teacher. She also participated in Sr. Margie’s women’s reflection group.
Ivania Alvarez, 35, joined the Center’s choir in 1989 when she was 12-years-old and remained a member until 2001. She went on to study social communications, worked in television, and is now working as a journalist for Central American University in Nicaragua.
Darling Gonzalez, 26, was a scholarship student from 2004-07 when she studied at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN). She now works for the Center for Health Information and Consultant Services (CISAS), a Nicaraguan organization that works on public health issues.
Raynal Paulet, 19, has been a scholarship student since 2010 when she was in 10th grade. She is now a college student at the UNAN.
Ivania. “I used to be very shy,” Ivania recalled. “I think my shyness had to do with problems I was experiencing at home. After my mom remarried, there were a lot of problems at home, and I left the house to live with an aunt. Sr. Margie encouraged me to study theater. In theater class, I learned to express myself and overcame my shyness. Now, I work in television!”
Raynal. Raynal said, “I had low self-esteem when I entered the scholarship program and was very quiet.” Through the workshops she attended and the sessions she had with the scholarship program psychologist, this began to change: “I learned about self-esteem, to recognize my qualities, to accept myself. Now I feel more secure, though I’m stilling working on this. I have more confidence when I speak, and I express myself freely.”
New OpportunitiesLillian. Both Sr. Margie and Fr. Ángel helped Lillian in her professional career. Sr. Margie encouraged her to enroll in a teacher’s college in 1987 and to get her teaching license. In 1990, as she was finishing her degree, Fr. Ángel helped her find a job as an elementary school teacher at a local parochial school. She worked at the school for 22 years, retiring only last year. Lillian also worked part time at the Center during the 90’s, coordinating the Adult Basic Education classes.
Darling. Darling discovered her current employer, CISAS, through a connection made through the scholarship program. CISAS asked the Center for assistance in organizing its health library. The Center sent Darling and two other scholarship students who were doing their social service in the Center’s library. A year later, in 2008, CISAS hired Darling because of her excellent volunteer work. She continues to work at CISAS and is now the coordinator of publicity and education.
Learning New Skills
Raynal. For four years, Raynal has done her social service at the Center’s library. During this time, she has become an avid reader. She likes to memorize interesting quotes and has a newfound appreciation for literature. Raynal’s love of reading has improved her vocabulary and sparked an interest in languages, so much so that she recently changed her college major from accounting to French and English, a double major!
Ivania. For Ivania, the skills she learned studying theater and singing in the choir have helped her in numerous ways as a journalist. “Knowing how to play guitar, being able to act, being in the choir – these things have all helped me in my career,” she said. “These days, people look at your resume and want to know if you have any special abilities. And I can say that I play instruments, I understand music and can create it. I’m knowledgeable about classical music, and I have a well-developed sense of creativity because of these skills.”
Personal Responsibility and ServiceIvania. “As a director, Fr. Ángel always demanded quality from us,” Ivania said. For Ivania and her fellow choir members, being part of the Center’s choir meant not only learning how to sing but also learning values, such as discipline, striving for excellence, and taking pride in your work.
Lillian. While reminiscing about her sewing, accounting, cooking, and other classes in the 1980’s, Lillian focused on the sense of support, solidarity, and mutual respect that developed among the women she studied with. “My experience at the Center was something completely new and something very positive for my personal growth,” she said.
Darling. Darling spoke of the difference between the Center’s scholarship program and other scholarship programs. “In other places, they only asked you to maintain a certain GPA. But at the Center, you also had to do social service. They teach you how to be responsible. You learn work skills and how to have discipline,” she observed. “The Center is a place where you develop as a person.”
Impact on their Families
Raynal. Raynal is eager to share what she learns at the Center with her family. She’s become closer with her mother, since joining the scholarship program. Reflecting on a workshop series she participated in with her mother at the Center, she said, “We began to trust each other more during those workshops. We learned relaxation exercises and how to relate to each other. We started giving each other hand massages, and I would ask her different questions about her life.”
Darling. Darling was the first person in her family to go to college. She said it would have been much more difficult to complete her studies without the scholarship she received from the Center. She also said her pursuit of a university degree affected her family. Darling is the seventh of 11 children, and, while none of her older siblings studied beyond high school, all of her younger brothers and sisters have followed her example. Two of her younger siblings have finished their degrees, and the other two are currently in college.
Lillian. In Lillian’s family, both of her children followed in her footsteps by going to college, although each in a different way. Her son, who dropped out of high school and is now in his thirties, is back in school and studying to become an industrial engineer. Lillian encouraged him to follow her example and return to school. Meanwhile, her daughter continued her studies after high school and works as a lawyer.
The Role of the Founders
Ivania and Lillian. Lillian and Ivania both knew Fr. Ángel and Sr. Margie well and speak warmly of them. Ivania says that Fr. Ángel and Sr. Margie were like a father and mother to her. “They were my friends, they gave me advice, and I wanted them to be proud of me,” she said. Lillian simply declared, “I owe what I am today to them.”
Darling. Darling never met Fr. Ángel or Sr. Margie. She entered the scholarship program in 2004, soon after their deaths, but she feels connected to them nonetheless. “The history of the founders affected me, although I never knew them,” she says. “I learned a lot from stories about them.”
Raynal. While Raynal never knew the founders either, she did encounter the same welcoming spirit that characterized them. “I’ve been surprised by my experience at the Center. I’ve received so much attention. People care about me and want to know how I’m doing,“ she said. Summing up her experiences at the Center, as well as the experiences of countless others, she said, “For me, the Center represents support, guidance, and care.”
On March 3, to kick off the 30th year celebration, a special Mass was offered at the Center, followed by a festive cultural presentation. Throughout the year, special activities will be linked to the anniversary celebration.
~ Samuel Estes