Community Organizing Responses to COVID-19
Queens Spotlight was launched in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time of incredible hardship and severe shifts in how society functions, we are continually inspired by the resourcefulness, responsiveness and resilience of Queens community members. In this series we highlight community organizing work and hope to provide insight into the vitality of this work within our borough during the pandemic.
April 20, 2020
Gianina Enríquez and Niceli Portugal, Founders of Escuelita en casa
Gianina and Niceli, you’ve both been working with communities in Corona, Queens for many years. Could you talk a bit about what you are seeing in the community. What are their main struggles right now and what are you organizing around?
Corona is one of the most affected neighborhoods in the country by COVID-19. During the last 8 years Gianina has built a community of 245 families in Corona called “Familias Unidas”. The close relationship with these families brought to our attention the lack of resources at home to face this challenge. As educators, we recognized the importance of a quality continuing education at home. Most of the children from “Familias Unidas” are ESL students and live in Spanish speaking households where parents are not able to help their children due to: language barriers, having someone infected by COVID-19 at home or simply having the worry to generate an income in order to support their family and having a roof over their head. Escuelita en Casa is a project pushed to reality by the need to homeschool children during this pandemic. We launched Escuelita en Casa on March 18th with 3 tutors and 5 children and to date (4/19/2020) we are a team of 29 tutors serving 28 families. The project is run entirely by volunteers and all classes take place through Whatsapp or Zoom.
Many ESL children take advantage of our English speaking tutors as a way to enhance their language acquisition process, however one of our main challenges is the limited amount of Spanish speaking tutors we have received. We are looking for more volunteers to grow this initiative and reach more families. We most urgently need Spanish-speaking volunteers!
We would like to extend the invitation to any person willing to share their time or skill with children directly affected by this crisis. If you want to volunteer 1 or 2 hours per week there are three ways to get involved: as a tutor (homework help for kindergarten through grade level 5), as a teaching artist (to engage with kids in art-making or play activities), or as a storyteller (reading to kids in English or Spanish). Please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know how you would like to help.
Would you share one thing that is helping you to keep going right now?
The inner motor that keeps Escuelita en Casa moving is the certainty of knowing that we are helping parents to ease their preoccupations caused by COVID-19. We are inside one of the most affected neighborhoods, the “epicenter of the epicenter”.
Gerson is a 4th grader who arrived at the Corona Library 6 years ago looking for help with ESL programs and since then, Gianina has been a great support for his school performance. Due to the need to be homeschooled, Gerson faced a new challenge. Gerson’s mother, Maria, could not help him much since she lacks the knowledge to interact with the technology offered at school combined with her limited understanding of English. Ingrid Gomez (a community leader) offered to tutor Gerson, becoming a mentor in his education and a personal friend. Since the tutoring started Gerson is excited to connect with Ingrid, who not only helps him at school, but most importantly helps his mom to keep moving their family forward through this pandemic. Maria has a feeling of relief and calmness knowing that Gerson will be helped with questions he has. Seeing the impact that these volunteers have is what keeps us going.
What is one way in which you hope that Queens will come out of this crisis stronger?
Queens is home to two of the most affected neighborhoods in New York City by COVID-19. Undocumented immigrants are our most vulnerable population and the most underserved inside our community while being the majority of the active workforce in New York City.
We believe humanity will be accounted above any immigration status or economic means in order to receive benefits from Federal institutions and most importantly quality Health Care.
We believe in the power of local large institutions, elected representatives, community organizations, local collectives and grassroot activists to come together leaving behind their differences with the only goal to protect the most vulnerable residents. If we build and strengthen this network through our shared humanity that could be a great benefit for the whole community.