CHAPEL HILL, NC – Months of hard work has finally paid off for six studious staff members at Carolina Meadows, a continuing care retirement community, who earned U.S. citizenship with the assistance of an innovative partnership between Chatham Literacy and Carolina Meadows staff and residents.
The new U.S. citizens were honored for their achievement with a special celebration held last month at Carolina Meadows. The honorees included Maribel Ruiz, Dinora Cantarero, Sara Salgado, Carmen Hernandez and Wendy Lissette Rivas Oporto, all current members of Carolina Meadows housekeeping or dining staff, along with Rosario Yruegas, a former Carolina Meadows staff member who is now retired. The event, which was attended by a number of Carolina Meadows residents, included cake and other refreshments.
Wendy Lissette Rivas Oporto, a native of El Salvador who has worked at Carolina Meadows for one year, says obtaining U.S. citizenship is one important step in an ongoing journey.
“I hope to learn more so that I can help my kids and my family,” Oporto said. She plans to continue studying English at Carolina Meadows with the help of her volunteer tutor, who “has helped me so much.”
“We are so impressed by this accomplishment,” said Amy Gorely, vice president of strategic initiatives and outreach at Carolina Meadows. “It’s a lot of effort and dedication to become a citizen, and we are very proud of our staff and the residents who helped them with their studies!”
Gustavo Maroni, a retired University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill biology professor and Carolina Meadows resident, has been a volunteer tutor with the community’s Chatham Literacy program since its inception in 2011. Born in Argentina, he knows first-hand the challenges non-natives can face when acclimating to a new country.
“These women are juggling a lot of demands with their families, jobs and other responsibilities,” Maroni said. “They are very busy but, thanks to the support of this program, they have the opportunity to learn new skills and improve their lives.”
Maroni currently tutors three Carolina Meadows employees, including El Salvador native Sara Salgado, who he also worked with for nine months as she studied for the U.S. citizenship test.
“Sara now is studying for the GED (General Educational Development) high school equivalency exam,” Maroni said. “She is a particularly diligent student who has worked very hard on every goal she sets.”
“The benefits of attaining a goal such as citizenship is far-reaching,” said Vicki Newell, executive director of Chatham Literacy. “By participating in these classes, students become part of a larger community. They gain a new level of confidence, which leads them to engage more fully with their children’s schools and other civic groups, and they also are able to vote, which is a big accomplishment.”
Launched in 2011, Carolina Meadows’ partnership with Chatham Literacy includes English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), citizenship and adult basic and secondary education classes. The classes are conducted on a volunteer basis by Carolina Meadows residents, who are trained at no charge by Chatham Literacy to work with the community’s staff. A vibrant, wellness-focused continuing care retirement community, Carolina Meadows has an active tradition of volunteerism among its residents.
For citizenship training, Carolina Meadows grants staff members two 1-hour periods of time per week to attend their tutoring sessions. Preparation for the naturalization test typically takes six to nine months of weekly sessions plus additional study. The process culminates in an oral interview conducted by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer. The U.S. Citizenship test features 100 questions about U.S. history and government. Aspiring American citizens must correctly answer six of 10 questions taken from the list of 100 to pass the test.
The volunteer tutors help students determine when they are ready to take the test, and Chatham Literacy staff help students complete their application. Each applicant for citizenship has three tries in which to earn a passing grade. To date, seven Carolina Meadows employees have become U.S. citizens through the program and several additional students are currently working toward that goal. In addition to Maroni, Carolina Meadows residents Mary Morrow and Margaret Miles, and non-resident tutor Joanne Caye instruct the citizenship classes.
“Preparing for the test is a major undertaking on the part of the students as well as the volunteers,” said Newell. “It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to master this material.”
Newell added that the program also requires a deep commitment on the part of Carolina Meadows. “Management has been incredibly supportive, making sure that the employees and the volunteers have the time and resources they need to be successful.”
Also contributing to the program’s success is a dedicated group of resident volunteers, led by an on-site liaison, who also is a resident. Pat DeTitta serves as the current on-site liaison for the Carolina Meadows-Chatham Literacy partnership and, for the program’s first five years, Lynn Ogden performed that volunteer role.