Contrary to popular belief, the East End is actually an incredibly diverse place, home to people from all walks of life, ethnicities and native languages. By far the fastest growing group is the Latin American community, yet local resources and programs geared toward Latino families are not increasing in number at nearly the same rate. Thankfully, the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center recently introduced the V.I.V.A. program, which seeks to fill the gap with a range of services including English and Spanish classes, translation assistance, family counseling, legal services, after-school help and food pantry assistance.
Chosen to head this new division of the center is Rossana Solares, who joined the BHCCRC team last fall as Latino outreach specialist and as an after-school teacher. During her time in these roles, Solares noticed it wasn’t just the children who needed help with their homework; the parents needed help assisting their kids. “A lot of [the Latino parents] feel like they can’t help because of their lack of schooling or because of their lack of the English language,” she says. The center then interviewed parents and learned that, sure enough, they were eager to learn English, so they began offering ENL (English as a new language) classes.
“I feel like a lot of the Latino parents who I’ve dealt with think that because I’m a teacher, I have this intimidating job and I’m so educated—they really kind of put me on a pedestal—and I always try to tell them, ‘I came to this country just the same way you did, and I learned English just the same way you’re trying to,'” Solares says, explaining that when she and her sister came from Guatemala in 1991, they were among the East Hampton elementary school’s first ESL students. “I think it’s very important to level things out in that way, and, from there, it’s building that rapport and getting to know them better.”
With English classes started, the BHCCRC team began thinking of other ways to help Latino parents, such as a workshop for teaching your kids how to read, a lecture clearing up myths surrounding COVID-19 and increased assistance navigating the food pantry. “That’s what we’re trying to do—just build from one little thing, and once we feel like the foundation is starting to set a little bit more, we ask for one more thing and try to find a way to incorporate it, so then it doesn’t get too overwhelming, not just for us, but definitely for the parents,” Solares explains.
As the number of programs and resources Solares was directing people to continued to grow, BHCCRC decided to make her the official point-person for the Latino community, creating V.I.V.A. for her to direct. “I’m now the direct line, and I think that was really important,” she says, encouraging people to text her or message her on What’s App directly to learn about services and resources V.I.V.A. can provide. “You have to be really available, and if someone is reaching out and responding, you’ve just got to get them—don’t let them fall through the cracks again. I’m really here, let me see how I can help you.”
As the periods in the program name signify, V.I.V.A. is an acronym which stands for Valiente, Inteligente, Valioso, Ambicioso (brave, smart, important and aspiring in English). “You want those adjectives that really stand out as to what Latin America is,” Solares says of the program’s name, adding that the Spanish word “viva” means “to live” in English. “It’s crazy because sometimes you meet a parent who’s very shy and quiet, but when you see them in their element, in their environment, they are very alive!”
Also joining the V.I.V.A. team is Claudia Quintana, the new ENL teacher, who has more than 12 years of experience teaching ENL in the East Hampton School District. Her classes, recently moved to Wednesday nights, are designed to work with parents’ busy schedules, and Solares promises there are no demerits for missing a class or not filling out the homework, only incentives for model students, such as gift cards. “We always try to let them know that there’s no shame,” she says.” We’re all here to learn together.”
While most of the services V.I.V.A. provides are directed toward the Latino community—though people of every ethnicity are welcome to attend English classes—the new Spanish classes are inversely beneficial, helping the East End’s native English speakers break down the language barrier even further. “I am most excited about the Spanish classes,” says BHCCRC Executive Director Bonnie Michelle Cannon. “I believe that to bridge the gap between the communities, we need to be able to communicate with each other. The center will be offering conversational Spanish classes for those who would like to learn how to speak Spanish. And yes, I plan on attending. I can’t wait!”
Solares hopes that V.I.V.A. will continue to strengthen its support network and its reach throughout the East End community, noting that the International Rescue Committee in New York City has already begun putting her in touch with East End families in need of assistance. “We’re a small little place here at the center, but we want to be able to expand it and reach out to other people and organizations to all work together because, ultimately, our goal is to help one another and give each other a voice and a place in the community,” she says.
“I feel like there’s been so much darkness in these last few months, and I think we’re finally pushing toward a different time. Things are starting to happen differently, and I think we’re going toward a positive way. We’ve got to keep on that, and what better way to do it, than by including everyone,” Solares says, reiterating that V.I.V.A. isn’t solely for Latino parents. “It’s open to whoever wants to be a part of it.”
To learn more about V.I.V.A. at the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center, visit bhccrc.org.