How we approached a bullied student
When John, a middle schooler, appeared in major distress, our Youth Program staff stepped in. Rehani, the Youth Program coordinator, called John in for a one-on-one meeting, explaining John was not in trouble but that the staff was concerned for him. John slowly revealed that he was being bullied in school and said that it made him hate his life.
Rehani listened carefully to John and reassured John that he would always be appreciated and respected at Americana. Throughout the following week, Rehani and the staff checked in on John and communicated with his parents who received family counseling and home visits.
Now, John has received more leadership roles among his peers at the after-school program which has boosted his confidence and happiness. He has also reported feeling more content at school and continues to receive support from Americana’s counseling including coping mechanisms for sadness and stress. One day after school, John left a note on Rehani’s desk in which he wrote…
“You’re the best teacher ever!”
At Americana, the Youth Program staff prioritize building a system of trust and confidentiality for the children enrolled in the program. They provide safe spaces for kids to talk openly about challenges and confusing things going on in their lives. As a component of our Mental Health Initiative, all of Americana’s youth participants receive direct mental health support through individual and group counseling.
A new soccer program to support teen boys
Youth Program Coordinator Rehani started playing soccer at six-years-old in a Tanzanian refugee camp. His family had fled to Tanzania from Burundi and settled in a refugee camp where they along with other refugees were not able to leave the camp to work or go to school. Through soccer, Rehani was able to shift his focus away from the challenges of living in the refugee camp to developing friendships and a sense of belonging. “I was able to learn and value teamwork, patience, and the importance of a support system without knowing I was learning,” says Rehani, “since I was a kid. And it helped me avoid the negativity of the environment I was in.”
After immigrating to the U.S. and participating in several soccer workshops, Rehani saw the need for and interest in establishing a formal soccer program for teen boys. At the time, funds and organizational tools were lacking. Rehani then recruited male mentors from the community including a former psychology teacher to help facilitate practices as well as daily reflections that take place after playing soccer. The program has been designed to support the health and wellness of refugee and immigrant children as well as providing an activity away from stress in their homes and neighborhoods. In collaboration with the other adult mentors and leading with a trauma-resilient approach, Rehani allows the teens to develop a code of conduct in which they will follow to respect each other as well as have a space to voice their feelings.
“These mentors have the power to influence the young men in our program because boys look up to figures in sports,” says Rehani. “We can use soccer to help support their hopes and dreams and prepare them for the future.”
Mental health goes beyond the therapist’s office
Milagros is a shy person who finds peace and confidence in gardening. She particularly enjoys growing ayote, a squash plant from her country of origin. Although she was a little nervous to prepare a dish for someone else, Milagros harvested ayote and prepared it in two different ways – one sweet and one savory – to share with Americana’s garden coordinator. This touching act of generosity and gratitude demonstrated Milagros’ growing sense of self-esteem in socializing. Growing and preparing food for yourself and others contributes to feelings of autonomy, accomplishment, and agency. We provide the garden space not only as a place to grow food, but also as a place to grow happier and healthier.
Garden Coordinator and Family Coach team up to support a gardener
Amar, an 82-year-old community gardener from Bosnia, suffered a stroke in July which resulted in a three-month stay in the hospital. During his time in the hospital, he lost his SNAP and SSI benefits. When Amar was released from the hospital and returned home, he reached out to Americana for support in navigating the process to re-activate these benefits. Our Community Garden Coordinator and Family Coach visited Amar’s home and with the help of a Bosnian interpreter were able to learn more about his situation. In the meantime as Amar’s social services were being evaluated, the Garden Coordinator and Family Coach were able to offer various forms of support including non-perishable food items. Soon after the staff stepped in to advise him, Amar was approved for both SNAP and SSI benefits.
Story shared by Americana’s Garden Coordinator
Fiberworks Welcomes a New Participant
Americana Fiberworks is a women’s fiber arts entrepreneurship program. Before a new Americana participant named Trini enrolled in Fiberworks, she had not learned to sew. Now, she is well-known in her community for her clothing alteration skills.
Gaining new sewing skills through the Fiberworks program, Trini now has regular customers who come to her to alter their items of clothing and purchase her creations. The Fiberworks Coordinator has continued guiding Trini to improve her expertise and keep her customers satisfied with their garment alterations.
Story shared by Americana’s Fiberworks Coordinator
Parent And Child Together Time
Americana’s Family Education Program has re-opened for the fall. In the brief two weeks since programming began, our participating families have already learned valuable skills. Hannah*, a mom with an 18-month-old son, is learning new nursery rhymes taught by Family Ed teachers during PACT (Parent And Child Together Time) to develop fine motor skills for babies and toddlers.
Hannah practices each nursery rhyme with hand movements at home with her child. Now, her child hums along with the songs and is beginning to move his hands and fingers to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” We are excited to see families like Hannah’s progress throughout this next year!
Story shared by Americana’s Adult Programs Coordinator
Growing Healthy Food in the Community Garden
Sara, a mother of three young children, has held a plot in the Community Garden at Americana since 2021. She loves to grow squash, beans, pumpkin, and tomatoes, and okra. Her favorite way to prepare her vegetables is to stir fry them.
Sara has become an important community leader and resource for other gardeners who speak Karen. She provides extra support for the Garden Coordinator to communicate with gardeners who have lower English proficiency, including one gardener who does not read. Sara is gardening in the high tunnel at Americana and has created a trellis network made of twine for her squash plants and bean plants to grow upon.
This is what Sara says about her garden:
“I can grow what I like to eat. It’s more meaningful when you eat what you plant. It’s organic and doesn’t cost a lot of money. I know it is healthy, all natural, and fresh. It makes me feel healthy. It also makes me remember where I am from. I enjoy it, it helps me be happy. I love gardening…
I have the opportunity to enjoy the same things I did in the past. When looking at the plants after pulling all of the weeds, it makes my heart happy. It looks beautiful when it is all tidy and the green beans are hanging from their vine. It’s very peaceful to see that your plants are growing; that they are healthy. It feels good.”
Story shared by Americana’s Garden Coordinator
Youth Mental Health Education
Milo and his family have been a part of Americana for at least the past three years. Before the pandemic, Milo and I had begun to talk about and work on his emotional awareness, control, and overall mindfulness specifically around anger management.
I was quite worried when COVID-19 hit that the work we had done would regress. We had little contact during the pandemic, and it wasn’t until this summer that he reached out. He was very interested in coming back to Americana when we began the in-person summer program to show me how much he had been working on his anger and how much he has changed.
I was impressed and surprised to see how much he had grown! Milo was even helping his brother cope with anger by using techniques we worked on together.
Now, as one of the older students in the program, Milo has taken on a leadership role.
He rallies students to get involved in mindfulness classes and shows up as an example for other participants. He still has his moments, but it has been amazing to watch him become aware of his behavior and work to change his mindset during these times.
This year, we are focusing on implementing Social and Emotional Learning in our teen group. This includes creating emotional safety plans and opening discussions on awareness, behavior, and mindfulness. Milo has been a main motivator in creating these program changes and has helped lead our teen group to this important step in development.
Story shared by Americana’s Youth Staff Coordinator
A letter of gratitude
I want to express our gratitude to the staff of Americana Community Center for all the support that you have given to our family during the past year.
My name is Francisco, I am Honduran, and my family and I immigrated to this country 20 months ago. Like many of the families who came to this country, we went through the difficult process of adaptation while experiencing employment, economic, and health challenges.
We want to express our deep thanks for the support we received across several donations of food, clothing, education through the program for our children, and financial support. All of this has been a tremendous help to cover the necessities that our reduced income made challenging. Earlier this year, we were surprised to receive a call of assistance which brought me to tears.
I am convinced that when we help others, God blesses us in surprising ways. In Honduras, as well as in Guatemala and Nicaragua, the COVID-19 pandemic and both Hurricanes Eta and Iota have resulted in overwhelming needs. In the past few months, in addition to arranging resources for families abroad, I have been able to share a little of my earnings from my new job with these families.
When we first received the donations from Americana, I had been without work for two weeks. The help has been an answer from God to our needs. We thank the generous donors who support this organization and all the volunteers who give their time in service to the community.
Francisco and family
This story was translated from Spanish to English and edited to protect the privacy of the original writer.
Securing housing and employment
Omar is a 32-year-old Ethiopian immigrant who is now a citizen of the US. We have had a long coaching relationship going back to when he was formerly homeless. Omar came to me one day with an eviction court order with the virtual court date in three days. This was due to a lack of payment because of a loss of jobs during the pandemic.
Omar also was experiencing high levels of stress, so I connected him with our onsite therapist to begin counseling.
We attended court that week in which the lawyer for the plaintiff argued he was entitled to immediate judgment because of lack of payment. The court passed the case to be reviewed in two weeks giving us some time to find assistance. During these two weeks, Americana worked with the Louisville Metro Housing authority and they agreed to help with rental assistance.
Luckily, the CDC ordered a moratorium on evictions during this period and we were able to support Omar in writing a formal declaration to the courts to stop his eviction. Though a lawyer working for the landlord argued that our declaration was invalid as the case was filed prior to the CDC order, the judge ultimately sided with Omar and interpreted the CDC order as retroactive.
Omar secured his place of living, has found a new job, and now makes his housing and utility payments.
Story shared by Americana’s Family Coach
Jenny Gutierrez came to Louisville five years ago after dangerous circumstances in her native country of Venezuela compelled her to bring her daughter to the United States. Since then, she has attained U.S. citizenship, purchased her first home, and started her own graphic design company, JD Creative.
Jenny worked successfully in graphic design and advertising in Venezuela, but ultimately had to leave to protect herself and her daughter. One day, as Jenny left work, she was pulled into a car and driven to a bank, where the kidnappers stole her money. “It was a horrible experience,” Jenny said. She no longer felt safe raising her daughter with the constant threat of violence hanging over their heads: “I said ‘bye-bye’ to Venezuela.”
Jenny brought her daughter to U.S., and was drawn to Louisville because her cousin lives here. “Normally, immigrants find their family,” Jenny explained. While it was helpful to have a family member in the community, acclimating to a new life in Louisville with her young daughter was daunting at first. “It was very lonely,” Jenny recalled, largely due to the initial language barrier.
Jenny found support at Americana, where she participated in English classes and family education classes, and received guidance and legal counsel to help her achieve her goals, including becoming a U.S. citizen and owning a home.
Jenny quickly came to embrace her new home. “I love it here,” Jenny said. She enjoys meeting new people, and especially likes the Kentucky Derby. “Oh my goodness, the hats!” Jenny exclaimed. She’s also taken a liking to Kentucky’s wine and bourbon culture—but “not for drinking! I don’t like drinking it; I like going to the vineyards and the distilleries. I love it!”
Now that she is a naturalized citizen, Jenny has adopted her brother, who lives with her and her daughter. “I needed my citizenship quickly for my little brother,” Jenny said. Her brother requires medical treatments which are difficult to access in Venezuela. “I talked with my mom, and he came to the United States to live with me.” Jenny recently completed the adoption process, and says that her brother is doing well. “He is an excellent student,” Jenny said proudly.
Jenny spends much of her time working at her graphic design company, JD Creative. She primarily designs logos and advertisements for Spanish-speaking business owners who would normally have difficulty communicating their needs and ideas to designers who do not speak Spanish. “Normally [Spanish-speaking businesses] here don’t have a logo—only a name,” Jenny said. For example, she helped one of her friends spread the word about his dentistry practice which previously had little public exposure among Hispanics. Jenny serves over 150 clients in three states, and gains most of her clientele by knocking on doors and talking to business owners face-to-face.
In addition to advertising, JD Creative sells custom-made gifts, like watches and drinkware, as well as fashion accessories, apparel, and wall decorations. Jenny recently started hosting painting classes too, and hopes to use them to bridge cultural divides. “I want to work with both Spanish and English [speakers].”
Jenny enjoys owning her own business and would not have it any other way. “I don’t like [having a] boss,” Jenny said, laughing. She is a natural entrepreneur, and loves thinking of new ways to expand her business and innovating new products and services. “Sleep, Jenny!” she implores herself regularly, making sure to take breaks from her nearly constant brainstorming.
Jenny works long hours—often six days a week—and she attributes her resolute motivation to her desire to provide for her kids. Jenny’s goal is to grow her company so she that can hire employees and spend less time working. “This is my project: time for my kids,” Jenny declared. “I’m a single mother…but I want time, because I want a quality life for my kids. First it’s my kids, then it’s me.”
Service and friendship
Haja Kamara has worked as a case coordinator at SAFY of Louisville since July 2021. She recently completed her service with the AmeriCorps in 2021. She is bilingual in English and Krio and is dedicated to serving her community through educating community members about the justice system.
“Americana has been a part of my family’s life for over ten years,” Haja reflects. “My mom, all three of my sisters, and myself have all been involved in Americana’s programs and classes…
My mom learned English through Americana’s ESL programs, my older sisters wrote their college admissions essays with family coaches. I found my childhood best friend here. I can see my little sister learning valuable things about responsibility and friendship in after-school program. Americana has been an essential part in my educational and personal success.”
Haja was selected as panelist at Americana’s first annual International Women’s Day Breakfast Briefing in 2022 and now serves as a Family Coach at Americana.