Through a supportive network of service providers, Diana Martinez was able to make Austin her home. Diana Martinez was born in Houston, and she and her family moved to southern Mexico when she was seven. Diana attended her first year of college in 2014 until she and her parents decided that area of Mexico was too dangerous for her to remain in college.
In early 2014, Diana and her younger sister moved to Austin to live with her aunt, who helped her enroll in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at Manos de Cristo. Manos de Cristo is one of eight community partner agencies in the Workforce and Education Readiness Continuum (WERC), which provides a spectrum of supportive services, literacy classes and occupational training to individuals in the Austin-Travis County area. Diana took ESL courses from May 2014 through May 2015 and received certificates for her proficiency in English.
For Diana, who was extremely homesick for her parents and friends, her ESL teachers and classmates became a second family. “I cried every day for the first three months I moved to Austin,” Diana said. “I missed my friends and was at zero with English.”
Diana dove into the ESL courses, which were taught in an immersion style where the teachers primarily spoke English to the students. Diana said the teachers were very invested in their students’ success. “I felt so special,” she said. “The teachers were always giving me support.” According to Karen Green, Diana’s case manager, Diana received about 200 hours of ESL education, including one week that specifically covered English vocabulary in the workplace.
“It was an honor to have Diana in my English class,” said Sarah Sanchez-Leal, a former AmeriCorps Vista who taught ESL courses at Manos de Cristo. “She was consistently a key contributor to the learning environment in class. She always showed up early to class and worked very hard. I’m delighted to know that all her hard work paid off. I’m also equally as pleased to know that Manos de Cristo was a useful tool in getting her to where she wants to be.”
Diana began her ESL courses with some knowledge of English, said Karen, but the courses helped her build her confidence. “I’m sure she is now thinking in English, not translating it in her head,” Karen said. “She got past the plateau.”
In addition to taking the ESL courses, Diana worked part time as a childcare leader at Manos de Cristo until Karen encouraged her to apply for an administrative assistant internship at American YouthWorks (AYW), another WERC partner agency.
“She was a great student. I saw that from the beginning,” Karen said of Diana. “Any time any [employment] opportunity came up, I kept thinking about her.”
Karen said Diana was hesitant to apply for the internship because she was worried about her English fluency and had never held an administrative assistant job. “I said, you got this, you can do it,” said Karen. “You really want to use your English and get work experience.”
Karen reviewed Diana’s resume and recommended her for the AYW internship, which Diana received! After her internship ended, AYW offered Diana a full-time administrative assistant position in May 2015. Karen said because of the interconnectedness among the WERC partner agencies, she felt very comfortable referring Diana to AYW.
Diana credits the ESL classes at Manos de Cristo and her job at AYW with helping her find her place in Austin. Diana found the courses so effective that she recommends them to AYW clients who want to learn or improve their English. Additionally, Diana’s younger sister is following in Diana’s footsteps and is taking ESL courses through Manos de Cristo! “Now, I have friends, I have work, and consider Austin my home,” Diana said.
The Workforce and Education Readiness Continuum (WERC) provides client services ranging from Adult Basic Education (ABE) and English as a Second Language (ESL) to job readiness instruction and occupational training with the goal of empowering clients with the skills they need to advance their employment opportunities and realize their economic potential. For more information program specifics and eligibility requirements, please visit www.wercaustin.com