Goodwill Faces: Meriem, Laura, Maria, Maddie
Meriem was living a comfortable life in the beautiful port city of Casablanca, Morocco where she held a clothing design job—a coveted role given her love for fashion—but a year ago she left that life behind. Meriem moved to the U.S. on a fiancé Visa to live with her future husband and immediately felt lonely and out of place because she lacked a sense of community and didn’t speak English. But she wanted to support financially, especially with her first baby on the way. Meriem took Goodwill’s English for Speakers of Other Languages courses, Retail and Customer Service and some computer classes that helped her land a job. Goodwill’s Job Training and Education team conducted mock interviews and have helped Meriem overcome many of the barriers she’s faced as an immigrant. The outpouring of support she’s received from the Goodwill family has given her increased confidence and better thoughts about her new life. Meriem is thrilled to provide support for her family and dreams of one day resuming a career in fashion design.
“I was just struggling with life and wanted to enroll in any classes to develop my knowledge to gain skills and employment to get any job. I feel warm, secure and comfortable to come to Goodwill. I feel like I come to my home. When I see the students, we talk like brother or sister or something. I do not feel like I miss my family over there, because I see all my family here. In the beginning I was stressed out, because I just left my country, so I was kind of home sick. I thought I want to go back to my home, but after meeting people like the teacher, case manager, all of them helping me, I like (my new life) and I love it.”
Laura had no intention of volunteering the first time she stepped foot in Seattle Goodwill’s South Everett Job Training and Education (JTE) Center, but 30 minutes into her first visit she asked how she could donate her time. Laura was at the center attending a graduation event with a friend when she became enamored by the diverse group of people thirsting for knowledge. She became even more captivated after learning about Goodwill’s mission. That started a relationship that has lasted over two years between Laura and Goodwill. She’s donated more than 300 hours, volunteering as an instructor’s aide before transitioning to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes. She has created successful talk-time sessions, where she meets with ESOL students and facilitates conversations around American culture, idioms, speech patterns and analogies. The inspiration Laura draws from the students she works with keeps her coming back session after session.
“I like to share what I know and what I am able to do. I’m a gregarious person, and it touches me when that light goes on for someone and they go, ‘Ah, I figured it out on my own. You know, I can do this now.’ I get good feelings from watching other people succeed, so I’m sort of rooting for them. I really want to live in a world where people have hope. Learning English is very hard. It takes years and years and years of dedication. And not being able to speak English in many cases is isolating and limiting what you can do and what kind of jobs you can do. So the reward is it gives me hope (knowing) that there are people that have that grit to learn English as an adult. It is amazingly difficult.”
Every day Maddie is living her dream. Since the first time she began passing out pretend homework as a child, she knew she wanted to be a teacher. Maddie, who grew up in Seattle’s Rainier Valley neighborhood, works as an instructor at Goodwill’s Seattle Job Training and Education Center. She teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses and plays a critical role in the High School 21+ high school completion program. While Maddie wound up only miles away from where she was raised, her path has taken her to Florida, southern California, Honduras and South Korea. Along the way she has collected a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in teaching and has taught in multiple countries. She’s seen first-hand the benefits and struggles that come with knowing and not knowing the native language, so being able to help students gain English-speaking skills holds extra meaning to her. Completing high school and learning the English language is paramount in helping spur better economic opportunity, and Maddie is thrilled to be able to make the daily impact she does on Goodwill students’ lives.
“I grew up in a mixed-ethnicity household. I also didn’t have the opportunities presented to me. I kind of had to trail blaze. I felt that if I were to achieve, once I got to the level of education I wanted to get at, then it was my turn to give back to the community, so that is what kind of led me here. Being a teacher (at Goodwill), you are not just a teacher. You are a case manager, you are a counselor. You are doing all these things in one, and I really like that. I love teaching, and it makes me happy. When I’m going in there and helping the students achieve their goals and dreams, I kind of feel a part of that, and so that is what is rewarding to me—the fact that I’m helping them get to where they want to be.”
Maria found herself at a Seattle Goodwill resume-building workshop after moving tothe Pacific Northwest from Costa Rica in 2011. A teacher back home, Maria owned a bachelor’s and master’s degree but she was looking for work in her new country. Little did she know, Goodwill was where she would work the next six years of her life. Maria immediately fell in love with Goodwill’s mission, and even though she found a job, she began volunteering at Goodwill’s Job Training and Education (JTE) Center. That turned into a part-time position, which led to a full-time role at Burien’s JTE Center, where Maria teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses. Maria has helped countless students develop English-speaking skill, which ultimately provides them better economic opportunity, increased confidence and an ability to become self-reliant. Maria developed a passion for helping others at an early age. She’s been teaching since she was 18 and admits working for Seattle Goodwill has been her most rewarding experience.
“I knew that if I had the chance, I would love to stay at Goodwill. We get people from all over the world, and it is such a rich experience. As I learn from them, they learn from me. We are able to help people on such a level I don’t think other organizations are able to. We are able to support a person not just in their learning, but as a whole. One of the major things for me is we get to help people. That is one of the most important things. We help them get a job, (work) toward that independence and we have the resources to do it. We get to give all of this for free, free of charge to them. To me, that is amazing. I tell people this: ‘Please come in and shop at Goodwill. I will give you a tour of the center. See where the money goes. I want you to see the students, because you are changing someone’s life.’”
Andrew is a Content Specialist for Seattle Goodwill and has a wealth of writing, communication and digital media experience. He loves all things sports related and owns a treasure trove of memorabilia. He also enjoys storytelling, the outdoors and sugar is his kryptonite.