For University students, it can be easy to get lost in the University bubble and become complacent with the ends of the universe being Alderman Road and the University Hospital. Latinx and Migrant Aid, a program of Madison House, encourages students to involve themselves with the larger Charlottesville community by engaging with the region’s migrant workers.
With six volunteering sites, eight program coordinators, four community partners and 74 student volunteers, LAMA is a service organization dedicated to helping Latinx migrant workers and their children in Charlottesville improve their English speaking and general academic skills.
LAMA partners with Sín Barreras, a Charlottesville nonprofit that holds themed events for the area’s immigrant community, does advocacy work on Latinx issues and provides individual client services for legal and immigration issues. Sín Barreras is LAMA’s most popular volunteer site.
“That site is mostly just adult ESL classes, and we also offer child care while the parents are being tutored in English,” said Sara Garcia, fourth-year College student and LAMA head program coordinator. “Some of [the migrant workers also] work on their driving test or … complet[ing] their GED.”
Students join LAMA via Madison House’s new GivePulse website, where they can apply to the program. Due to program size constraints, not all students who apply are selected for the program, with priority given to returning volunteers. All students can volunteer in one of the six LAMA sub-programs — Homework Helpers, Migrant Camps, Cherry Avenue, Iglesia de Palabra Viva, Sín Barreras and Adult Tutoring.
“There’s definitely more interest in LAMA than we can accommodate,” Garcia said. “I wish we could be bigger to give everyone who signs up a spot, but it’s just not always possible.”
Across LAMA’s six programs, University students volunteer weekly and carpool to various locations in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, including Jefferson City School, Red Hill Elementary, Cale Elementary, Iglesia Rios de Agua Viva and Iglesia de Palabra Viva.
First-year College student Ella Heitmeyer began volunteering with LAMA through her Spanish 3020 course, one of the University’s undergraduate Civic and Community Engagement classes.
“[Volunteering] is actually a required part of the class,” Heitmeyer said. “[We] talk a lot about our experiences in class, and we have a final project on it.”
At Iglesia de Palabra Viva, University student volunteers are paired with the same child every week, which, according to Heitmeyer, helps students and tutees form meaningful relationships.
“It’s definitely nice to get out of the U.Va. bubble and kind of interact with the Charlottesville community,” Heitmeyer said. “It’s definitely also been really nice to get to form a relationship with [these kids].”
For fourth-year College student Mythili Vigneshwar, who has been volunteering with Latinx communities since high school, the combination of her past experience and the new knowledge she has gained since coming to college makes volunteering with LAMA feel meaningful.
“It was just kind of the continuation of what I’d already done in high school compounded with … [learning] more about the racial and social disparities in Charlottesville,” Vigneshwar said. “I thought it would be a meaningful part of my time [to] help out with this community.”
Another LAMA sub-program is Migrant Camps, a seasonal summer and fall program in which University students in Charlottesville for the summer meet with migrant workers Tuesdays at 6:15 p.m.
“Migrant Camps this [past] summer were at a camp in Covesville … [about] 30 minutes away from U.Va,” Garcia said. “Volunteers go and help with an English class … after the [migrant] workers are done with their day working on the orchards.”
Both Migrant Camps and Homework Helpers, another sub-program, are sponsored by Albemarle Regional Migrant Education, one of LAMA’s official community partners.
“For both [Migrant Camps and Homework Helpers] we have some support from Albemarle County with resources … to actually tutor with,” Garcia said. “Homework Helpers volunteers [assist] high schoolers with their homework and … [give] them study strategies.”
Though The Cavalier Daily was not permitted to interview the migrant workers who participate in any of LAMA’s programs, Garcia expressed gratitude for University students’ enthusiasm and willingness to engage with the Charlottesville community.
“It’s inspiring in many ways,” Garcia said. “I really appreciate the U.Va. students that go out and are really passionate about [volunteering], but also the fact that the Latino community is … willing to put their time and effort into … making themselves more a part of their surrounding community.”