May 2022 – Cuentos from Our Work

Sister Innovators in Education, Teacher Mari and Teacher Titi

Between both sisters, Teacher Mari Rico and Teacher Martha Diaz have almost half a century at El Centro de La Raza! Not only has their work shaped several generations in our community, they continue to shape the landscape early child development by pioneering federally-recognized programs and techniques that incorporate bilingualism, cultivate a feeling of belonging, and foster lifelong commitments to social justice in early childhood development

2022 marks Teacher Mari’s 25th year at El Centro de la Raza, where she oversees the Luis Alfonso Velasquez Afterschool Program. For Teacher Martha, she is entering her 23rd year at The Jose Marti Child Development Center!

Teacher Mari Rico

While working full-time, Mari obtained her (CDA) Child Developmental Associate’s degree at Seattle Central Community College, and her (AAAS) Associate in Applied Arts and Sciences with a specialization in Bilingual/Bicultural Education at Shoreline Community College. She then completed a Bachelor of Arts in Human Development and Education from the Praxis Institute, and a Bachelor of Arts in Education and Master’s Degree from Goddard College.

Under Mari’s supervision, the Luis Alfonso Velásquez Afterschool Program achieved accreditation from the National Afterschool Association in 2008.  In 2018, School’s Out Washington recognized Mari with its Champion Award. As a STARS state-approved trainer and Early Childhood Education coach, she also trains other teachers in the field.

When asked how she manages to teach and find time to learn, innovate, and contribute to her field, she said it makes her job easier. Teaching as a profession is constantly evolving; everything from toys to technology is continually changing, and staying ahead of the curve is important to meet students where they are.

Classrooms at El Centro de la Raza create a sense of family, which includes a feeling of responsibility and being agents of community empowerment. For this reason, kids in her program often participate in marches and encouraging civic engagement in their families.

One of the most rewarding parts of Mari’s program is seeing students return, who sometimes enrolled as early as age one! Students have come back to work and volunteer at El Centro, invite her to their graduations, and some have even proudly brought their children to meet her.

Teacher Martha Diaz

Martha Diaz is also a pioneer in the field of bilingual education at the national and international level in early childhood education.

For Martha, creativity and art are essentials for teaching–especially when it comes to teaching more complex issues around social justice and inclusivity. In the classroom, she uses poetry, music, and all mediums of visual arts, including changing the décor to reinforce lesson plans. Students are invited to bring in artifacts from their home culture to teach appreciation of other cultures.

Bilingualism is as imperative for a native English or Spanish speaker in our classrooms, and children are taught that all languages have equal value. It is a truly unique environment, especially for children of color, that strengthens their confidence and gives Martha a deep feeling of commitment to her classrooms at El Centro de la Raza.

Martha Diaz’s preschool classroom is a model for the Soy Bilingüe approach and receives visitors from across the country and globe. In her classroom, Martha implements educational strategies from the Seattle Early Education Collaborative (SEEC), Early Childhood and Assistance Program (ECEAP), and Creative Curriculum as well as maintaining standards of accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAYEC).  As a part of her graduate studies at Goddard College, Ms. Diaz created a visualization of the 100-Point Soy Bilingüe Preschool Assessment Tool, earning her MA in Education with the Dual Language ECE Concentration. Martha is an extraordinary, creative, and conscientious educator and learner. With nearly twenty-three years of experience at El Centro de la Raza’s José Martí Child Development Center, she has achieved incredible outcomes for children in their language and literacy development, their socio-emotional development, and their anti-bias and cultural competency development.

When asked about what it was like to work with their sibling, both reported a strong sense of gratitude. They have the unparalleled honesty shared between siblings for constructive criticism, and enjoy comparing notes on the latest methodologies that help them bring the most innovative advances to their classrooms. Along with our students, we echo our appreciation for the lifechanging innovations they are bringing to the field of education and future generations to come in our community.

A Call that led to Housing, Employment, Day Care and more for one family

Once a family is enrolled in our programs, Susan Banhegyi’s work begins. As our Family Navigator, she meets one-on-one with parents and caregivers to get to know parents and caregivers and help them navigate available services in King County, and create a warm connection between our participants and other service providers that are linguistically and culturally appropriate.

In April, Susan received a call from a participant who was having trouble attaining housing. She and her baby daughter, who has down syndrome, had been living in a drafty mobile home full of leaks and their landlord had asked them to leave by the end of the month. Despite applying to several apartment complexes, she was not approved because of her lack of credit history. Additionally, she had no proof of income as she was paid in cash.

Within four days after contacting Susan connected the participant with our partners at Seamar, mother and daughter were approved for housing. At the same time, Susan worked with her to apply for Supplemental Security Income, secure childcare, and employment.

Next steps? Susan is helping the participant connect with legal services for support with immigration paperwork and counseling services.

As a single mother herself, Susan is constantly inspired by her participants’ resilience and resourcefulness. She asserts, “I am always mesmerized how single moms manage to excel even when having every hardship thrown their way.” She is able to meet her clients where they are on a personal level; as a single mom, she put herself through school while working full time too.

Through her work, she is helping our community tackle homelessness by working with one family at a time to secure safe housing.

In April, Susan made 54 referrals like this and continues to build connections with external partners to provide holistic solutions to help families not only survive, but excel.

Without emergency funds, families run the risk of becoming homeless, going hungry or becoming ill. If you can please consider donating!

Connecting our Senior Citizens with Katie Yuen

Katie Yuen

In a time when Seattle’s cost of living has sky-rocketed, seniors in our community on fixed incomes have faced even deeper isolation and tough choices during the pandemic. In response, our Community Connector, Katie Yuen, has worked with seniors to connect them with our food bank and programs and external public benefits and services to make sure our seniors don’t have to choose between paying housing, healthcare, utilities and food. In honor of her work and this month celebrating the aging community, we share Ms. Lew’s story.

Ms Lew is a retired senior and longtime resident of Beacon Hill. Since her husband passed away many years ago, Ms. Lew has lived alone and relied on social security benefits. Until the pandemic, this was enough, but as prices for everything increased, her benefits did not cover her expenses and she needed food assistance.

Despite the tough situation, she reached out to El Centro de la Raza and was immediately at ease when she met Katie, who was able to speak with her in her native Cantonese. Katie relates deeply to the experience of many immigrant seniors in her care on a personal level. She remembers when her parents newly migrated a social worker at a nonprofit changed their lives by helping them navigate the public benefit system in their own language. This experience changed her family’s life, and has inspired her work with El Centro de la Raza for five years now!

Katie helped Ms. Lew apply for Fresh Bucks program for food and introduced her to El Centro de la Raza’s staff and Food Bank. She now looks forward to coming to el Centro’s Food Bank to also connect with community in her language– our Food Bank Coordinator also speaks her language!

In the last six months, Katie has assisted more than 95 seniors with public benefit applications and has helped them feel like they have a home at El Centro de la Raza.

To support work like Katie’s, please consider donating or volunteering with us!