Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Student Reflection

by Andrew Piotrowski

Public Benefits

Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of community service is the awareness that a person gains just by going outside the walls of the classroom to realize how vastly different people’s lives can become.  We often become so wrapped up in our own business that we easily overlook how fortunate so many of us (myself included) are to be here at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.  However, when we allow our social “bubble” to burst, the harsh realities that affect the people outside of campustown set in.  Although it is a sobering and difficult experience, I believe that it is also a very important one, no matter what career path one may choose.

This past Sunday, I was put in charge of holding an informational meeting regarding public benefits that members of the immigrant community may be able to take advantage of.  I organized the session in conjunction with St. John’s Catholic Church at the Newman Center on 6th and Armory.  Although a large part of my objective in holding this session was to promote the social services we offer at ECIRMAC, I was also interested in hearing from the individuals who attended about each of their individual stories.  Turnout for the meeting was lower than I had hoped, but my classmate Victor and I were able to take questions from all who attended.  Among those was a woman with her 96-year old grandmother, who had just recently come here from a dangerous part of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  She was unfortunately experiencing health problems, and was trying to acquire a medical card from the state so that she could receive treatments for her health.  Her granddaughter, a low-income woman who has lived here for awhile, was hoping to apply for the card on her behalf, as she is now a permanent resident of the US.  Although the elderly woman has been allowed in the country by way of an emergency visa, the visa expires in 6 months and the woman will be hard-pressed to renew it, not to mention that the state does not offer the same benefits to this woman as they do to residents.  It is so disheartening to think that we live in a country where a 96-year old woman cannot get proper health treatment because of an inability to pay out of pocket, and still more saddening that she would most likely not even be included in the newly-passed healthcare reform, because of all the revisions made to the legislation concerning non-citizens.

The second story that Victor and I heard was from a middle-aged, low-income gentleman who also happened to live in Puerto Vallarta until four years ago, when he packed his things and came to this country in hopes of a more fruitful living for his family back home.  Since his arrival, he has encountered several obstacles to accomplishing his objective.  According to him, he was found by authorities after a warranted search of his business uncovered a cocaine-dealing operation that was being run by this man’s friends, allegedly unbeknownst to him.  He now faces deportation charges and is in the midst of a series of court dates to decide his fate.  Unlike many immigrants, this man is hopeful about the prospect of returning home.  He says he misses his family too much, and wants to spend time with his children before they are grown.  Before that could take place, another obstacle was thrown his way.  This past year, it was revealed to him that he fathered a child here without even knowing it.  The mother, an American citizen, had never come forth with the information until DCFS intervened and sought to place the child in protective care, due to the mother’s inability to properly care for this two-year old boy.  The man willfully submitted to a DNA test, and is now in the process of trying to raise the child on his own.  He is more than willing to act responsibly in dealing with his past indiscretions, and to make sure that the child has a family to care for him properly, and this was particularly inspiring to me, given all of the negative information presented today about low-income families and improper childcare.

It was really gratifying to me when I walked into the center Tuesday afternoon to find that very same man sitting in the office, talking to one of our full-time staff members, Deborah.  I translated the information that he was communicating about his predicament, and Deborah assured us that although he will have to comply with everything DCFS requires of him, there is a good chance that he will be able to not only achieve full custody of the boy, but also take him back to Puerto Vallarta to live with his family.  Thankfully, the man followed my advice to come in with all the documentation he had received from court and from DCFS, so that we could assist him.  Although it would have been great to see more members of the immigrant community attending the meeting, the people who did attend, such as this man, could have life-changing effects as result of our efforts.  To know that our community is being better served by organizations such as ECIRMAC and the efforts of its staff, no matter how small of an act, is a truly satisfying experience.

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