For AmeriCorps Week, get to know our AmeriCorps VISTA, Carol León!
Carol León is the current AmeriCorps VISTA at the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians (MONB) through Boston Cares. A 2015 graduate of Suffolk University majoring in International Relations and French, she is excited to serve the immigrant community through her role as the New Americans Library Corners Program Coordinator. Her project will be launched on April 14th in conjunction with the White House Regional Convening on New Americans in Boston. The New Americans Corners, which will be set up in all 24 branches of the Boston Public Library, will serve as information stations for the immigrant community. They will contain books, pamphlets, and flyers about citizenship, immigration services, and financial empowerment. Carol’s project is also made possible through partnerships with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Boston Public Library, the Mayor’s Office of Financial Empowerment, and Citi Community Development.
What were you interested in while growing up?
I had a wide range of interests while growing up. I remember my fluctuation in career interests amused my family. One day, I would say I wanted to be an archeologist and live in Egypt. Another day, my mother would find me mixing bathroom products because of my sudden interest in chemistry. When literature caught my eye, I “finally” decided my calling was to become a writer. I never imagined I would end up in the path that I am, but I couldn’t be happier.
What career paths did you consider while in college?
While in college my passion to serve the immigrant community determined the career paths I started to consider upon graduating. As a Mexican-American young woman, I knew I wanted to work in the government or non-profit sector serving a community I consider myself a part of. What reassured my desire to pursue this path was attending the 2013 Public Policy Leadership Conference at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Being part of that conference gave me the opportunity to connect with almost 50 students who knew service was their calling and with community leaders, students, and faculty who empowered us to pursue that passion.
Why did you decide to do AmeriCorps VISTA?
I decided to join the AmeriCorps VISTA team because I believe service to be my calling and I knew the position at MONB was exactly the opportunity I had been looking for. As soon as I read my VISTA assignment description (VAD), I was confident the results of my year of service would outweigh any obstacles I had to face. Today, I am happy to say I would not change the decision I made. This job has given me the opportunity to develop a program that will benefit thousands of immigrants in Boston. I have also been fortunate to collaborate with different offices and build relationships that will ensure the sustainability and growth of the program I helped build.
What is your favorite thing about your current position?
My favorite aspect of my position has been working with different agencies to get the initiative off the ground. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Boston Public Library, the Mayor’s Office of Financial Empowerment, and Citi Community Development. It has been an incredible learning experience to work directly with different teams and being able to connect them with each other. I also enjoyed visiting all the branches of the Boston Public Library and talking to the head librarians about the initiative. However, I believe what I am most grateful for is to be part of such a dedicated, caring, and brilliant team. I am lucky to say I look forward to coming to the office every day because I believe in the office’s mission, my team, and my project.
Why is your project important?
The New Americans Corners project has already been implemented in other five cities around the country, and they have been incredibly successful. In a city where 1 out of 4 residents are foreign-born and where 44,000 Bostonians are legal permanent residents, it is important to make information and services relevant to this community widely available. However, this project goes beyond the set-up of information stations for the immigrant community–our hope is that this will transform libraries into a welcoming space for New Americans. The second stage of this project will focus on developing programming at certain branches such as legal consultation and citizenship application clinics as well as financial empowerment workshops. This will bring services that are needed among immigrant communities to their neighborhood libraries. In addition, it will motivate immigrant families to go to their local libraries and take advantage of the resources and services that are already offered there.
What would you like your legacy with MONB and Boston Cares to be?
I would like my legacy with MONB and Boston Cares to be a successful and self-sustained program. I want the New Americans Library Corners to become the first step towards creating welcoming spaces for immigrants in all of the 26 neighborhoods of the City of Boston. My other hope is that the collaboration between my office and the Boston Public Library will not stop after the program. I want this collaboration to become a long-lasting strong relationship. I envision a wide-range of programming for the immigrant community taking place in all 24 branches of BPL. Finally, I want this program to become an example of success for future Boston Cares AmeriCorps. I want them to realize that the challenge they are undertaking will positively impact the community they serve.