“Communities are important” is a Re-ED principle that Carmen Perez embodies on a daily basis. Carmen delivers services in Spanish to the Latino community in York, Pennsylvania and has been doing so for the past seven years. Latino culture values personalismo with a well-meaning, caring, objective, and respectful person. Carmen certainly could be described as having personalismo. It is for this reason that not only the families she serves but also other members of the Latino community consider her a valuable resource. For example, Carmen’s supervisor has received phone calls or had people come to the Pressley Ridge office asking for her. These people were not clients that Pressley Ridge was serving but rather, Spanish-speaking individuals who needed help and had been told that Carmen would knew how to help them. Carmen has had the same experience when in the community as people will stop her and ask her questions about how to access a needed social service. Those outside of the Latino community also recognize Carmen’s use of personalismo as a valuable resource. In fact a local district justice routinely tells families to partner with Carmen.
Carmen also uses a mixture of care and objectivity when breaking down barriers. Carmen knows that many of the families she serves have not been able to experience the larger York community due to cultural and language barriers. For example, many of the parents that Carmen comes in contact with do not understand their child’s Individualized Education Plan, (IEP) for a variety of reasons. Many do not understand the purpose of the IEP meeting, or are uncomfortable requesting an interpreter for the IEP meeting. Because Carmen knows that a child must experience education as both positive and meaningful to increase their chances of success as an adult. She teaches parents how to advocate for themselves and not to allow their limited understanding of English to prevent their child from being successful.
Carmen also knows that to be successful, the families she serves must know how to negotiate their financial worlds and thus she tells them which banks have Spanish-speaking tellers and provides them information on budgeting and financial literacy in Spanish. This is a much needed resource for families who have recently immigrated to the United States and have not been previously exposed to concepts like credit and thus do not understand that good credit is needed to rent a home, purchase a car, or even get a good rate on car insurance.
Many of Carmen’s families live in unsafe neighborhoods due to their limited incomes and thus violence is a reality in their lives. Recently, Carmen was in a family’s home helping to train a newly hired bilingual worker when there was a shooting. Carmen’s car was damaged but she did not allow the frustration of this to taint the new worker’s perception of Pressley Ridge’s work. At this moment Carmen exemplified personalismo as she was both caring and objective. Carmen explained that this type of incident—a worker’s car being damaged in a shooting—was extremely rare and this was the first time it had happened to one of our York workers while also providing emotional support to the new worker. You see, even while standing in front of her tire that had been shredded by bullets, Carmen’s concern was for those around her rather than her personal belongings.
Personalismo could also be loosely translated as forming a genuine caring relationship and these caring relationships that Carmen forms with other professionals and those that she serves are the foundation of her work. It is also these relationships that knit together her community and allow her to support those she serves to experience the larger York community in a positive and meaningful way.