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Back to school reflections: New beginnings and old lessons

Encounter at Catholic Charities

By Nohemi Trujillo and Andrea Bustillo Lozano

As the swing of August sets in, we find ourselves once again at the close of summer and embarking on the new routines of fall.

Students across our diocese are preparing for their first day of school or wrapping up their first week, teachers are welcoming new students into their classrooms and parents in every community are gearing up for drop-offs, pick-ups, and so on.

At Catholic Charities, we remember in a special way the many students who have come through our doors — resettling with their families after turmoil and travel — to walk into classrooms in their new homes for the first time.

The Youth and Education support services at Catholic Charities Refugee Services program accompanies youth who are rebuilding their lives alongside their parents in new homes and communities across mid-Missouri — enrolling them in local schools, prepping school supplies and materials and gathering supportive services to help them succeed.

Andrea Bustillo Lozano and Nohemi Trujillo are two Catholic Charities staff members who take up this work in the Refugee Services program, with a special dedication to serving youth.

We hope you enjoy the encounters they share with you this week.

New Beginnings

By Nohemi Trujillo

I started working at Catholic Charities Refugee Services about two years ago.

I was hired just around the time of the fall of Kabul, and we were receiving many families per week from Afghanistan.

My role at Refugee Services is primarily in youth services which entails enrolling the children in school, running two youth programs that promote English learning and community integration and much more.

Although I am not a refugee, I come from immigrant parents who had to resettle and start from scratch in this country with very limited English.

I can empathize with our youth because English was also not my first language and like many of our refugee youth — I had to be in English language learner (ELL) courses in elementary school.

As I work closely with our youth and families, it is moving to see the impact of the work we do at Refugee Services.

A specific moment that motivates and inspires me to continue this work is one I think of often, that happened only a few months ago.

I drove a number of teen clients to school for their first day — they were extremely nervous and quiet.

As we were walking into the school, another student ran towards us and enveloped me in a big hug — speaking nonstop English and quickly!

It was a former client of mine, speaking to me and embracing me with confidence and joy.

I was so encouraged to see how much she has learned and grown in just a couple of years.

It is incredibly heartwarming when clients recognize you and are happy to see you.

This one encounter gave me a renewed sense of hope for the students who would begin their first day, and for many more students to come.

I am grateful that I can assist newcomers with education and English learning while trying my best to make it an enjoyable learning experience for them as they settle into their new homes.

Working with youth is truly a gift, one I am grateful to share in.

Old Lessons

By Andrea Bustillo Lozano

William Arthur Ward once said “Teaching is more than imparting knowledge; it is inspiring change. Learning is more than absorbing fact; it is acquiring understanding.”

Ever since I can remember, I have been surrounded by teachers.

My grandmother was a kindergarten teacher back in Honduras.

After she retired, she would give free classes at a local church and take me with her from time to time.

School was never my forte when I was young.

I would prefer staying home reading my books than learning about equations.

I couldn’t understand why my grandmother’s students were so eager to learn.

My grandmother then told me that she keeps them curious, that curiosity was essential for a mind to grow.

Years passed and I was in my first semester in college studying for a business degree though I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I was still looking for my purpose.

I started volunteering in my church and ended up in Mexico helping renovate a local church.

Everyone I experienced there was so welcoming and happy!

I felt like I was beginning to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

I changed my major to social work as soon as I returned to school.

Afterwards, I moved to Columbia, Missouri and started working in a preschool.

Working with children, I learned that patience and kindness can make all the difference in someone’s life.

When I started working with adults, I faced some difficulties in the transition, as it was not the same as teaching kids.

It is important to guide adults but keep their independence intact, and not assume what they can or cannot do based on our perception of them.

I have learned to ask and be their student too.

I remember the first time I saw improvement after weeks of hard work.

I felt so proud as a woman showed me how much she had been working on her English.

With her hard work, she inspired me to keep going, that learning is a process for both of us.

I still remember the first teacher that impacted my life, her name is Marilene.

She was always kind and made me feel safe to ask questions and make mistakes. I hope that one day I can be remembered the same way.

Nohemi Trujillo and Andrea Bustillo Lozano are Catholic Charities staff members working in the Refugee Services program providing youth services and mentorship as Refugee Youth and Education Specialists. Their shared interest in educating and forming youth and their drive to see newcomers resettle safely in welcoming communities across mid-Missouri provides care and creates hope for those they serve. To learn more about Refugee Services and the areas of support Catholic Charities provides, visit cccnmo.dio