Rosa on the Mend
The story of Rosa Peñate is really two separate ones: pre-MEND and post. “I used to sit around and watch a lot of TV,” says the El Salvador native, who has been in America for about three decades. “Now I walk. It’s my therapy.”
Rosa, who is in her early 50s, became a MEND patient five years ago for help with her diabetes, and has since lost fifteen pounds. More importantly, she has seen an improvement in her blood sugar levels. In fact, thanks to MEND’s weight management and diabetes management programs, fourteen participants in the group have improved their blood sugar levels. Six of them have done so by at least one percent. Studies show for every one percent reduction, the risk of developing chronic illness goes down by 40%, while having a heart attack is cut by 14%. Rosa gives credit to the change to MEND. “It helps a lot,” she says, smiling. “I have everything here and I love Dr. Kearns. He really cares.”
Rosa takes wellness and health education classes, and says MEND has taught her how to become a more careful shopper. “I always look at the labels now,” says Rosa.
Perhaps most important, is the community she feels with MEND and how the organization has altered her lifestyle. “I used to be depressed,” she said. “Now I know people care about me. I’m so thankful. MEND is my family.”
By Volunteer Bill Kelley
A Neighbor in Need
To many, El Nino represents relief after a long dry season and a chance to refill reservoirs. But to people like Rigoberto Sanchez, who was living on the street until he found MEND, it’s another serious obstacle facing the homeless.
“It’s not always safe being on the street and MEND helps me with that,” says Sanchez.
Through its various programs, MEND does more than help our homeless neighbors. It offers people like 56-year-old Sanchez, college-educated in his native Guatemala, a chance to succeed in his new home.
Sanchez settled in Pacoima in 1996 in order to achieve a better life for himself and his children back in Guatamala. After unsuccessful attempts to obtain employment in the financial sector (a sector he worked in his native county), he settled for a job as a driver at a local trucking company where he worked for six years until his wages were cut. Shortly after, he gained employment as a construction worker, also locally.
Through a series of unfortunate events, including an on-the-job accident at the construction site, he became physically unable to work and subsequently became homeless. Despite a three-month stay in the hospital and other setbacks, Sanchez, who is now ready and able to work full time, is already giving back to the community. At MEND, he volunteers as a lobby attendant, helps pick up donations in a MEND truck and helps keep the facility clean. In addition to giving back to the organization that means so much to him, Rigoberto hopes to build his network for potential job opportunities.
“If anyone can find me a job, that would be even better! I can do anything” concludes Sanchez.
Tailoring to the Community
Two years ago, needing to take care of her two children (ages 3½ and 1), as well as her husband, whose income varies from month to month, Priscilla Coc began receiving services from MEND’s Food Bank and Clothing Center. This fall, Priscilla registered to receive a Christmas Basket to help make this holiday one her family can enjoy. During her visit to MEND’s Christmas Toy Land, she spotted a pink party dress and chose it as her older daughter’s Christmas present. Little did she know that this dress is one of the hand-sewn creations of MEND’s longtime volunteer Carol Brown.
Every month since August 1996, Carol has sewn approximately 40 party dresses and short sets (tops and bottoms) for our clients’ children. To date, she has sewn more than 7000 outfits and averages more than 300 volunteer hours per year. More importantly, she has brought joy to thousands of parents and children who can celebrate memorable occasions with pride and dignity.
When Priscilla was asked why she chose the dress, she stated that pink is her daughter’s favorite color, and since her daughter does not have many pretty dresses, she wanted to give her a beautiful dress to wear on Christmas day.
“MEND has brought me a lot of happiness” says Priscilla. “Thank you to all the wonderful donors and volunteers who have helped me bring a smile to my daughter’s face.”
The Student Becomes the Teacher
Fifteen years ago, Ruben Villarreal came to the United States to seek a better life for his wife and two children. To adjust to his new environment, Ruben began taking English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at Kennedy High School in Granada Hills where he learned of MEND’s free computer classes through a fellow classmate.
Shortly after, Ruben found a job at his local Vallarta grocery supermarket but soon realized he lacked the proper computer skills needed to fulfill his duties. Beginning his computer classes at MEND three years ago, he was committed to learning at a fast pace. He recorded the instructor during each class and practiced the day’s lesson at home. He voluntarily repeated each computer class multiple times to master each level. His dedication to learning the material and his natural affinity to help others struggling eventually caught the eye of one of his instructors who encouraged him to volunteer as a computer instructor. Encouraged by MEND’s long history of having volunteer-lead programs and classes, Ruben found the courage to try, saying, “if they [the instructors] could do it, so can I.”
Two years later, Ruben is now the instructor of his own Spanish language computer class at MEND. When he arrives, his students greet him enthusiastically, shouting “Ruby! Ruby!” and exchanging hugs and well wishes in Spanish. “Being here at MEND is an experience,” he says, “you realize that everyone here is giving the best that they can and it’s a chance to be happy.” When asked what his favorite part about being an instructor is, Ruben says that “it is the happiness you get from helping and teaching others,” adding “I’m proud of what I do.”
As for what the future holds for Ruben, he plans to continue teaching at MEND and perfect his English speaking skills to obtain a better position.
“Being at MEND changes you and your mindset,” he says, “it makes you realize that it’s not all about making money and working; that you can find meaning in your life through giving back to your community.”
By Volunteer Mia Rodriguez
Seeing is Believing
When Maribel Vasquez noticed her four–year-old daughter, Mia, squinting as she watched television, she made an appointment at MEND’s Eye Care Clinic to have Mia’s eyes checked.
Today Mia, diagnosed with myopia – or nearsightedness, sports purple flexy eyeglasses and can see the TV from across the room. For Maribel, the $20 donation to the vision program was an investment in her daughter as she prepares for pre-school.
“She had fun during the appointment and said the doctor was nice” says Maribel. “Now she can see better. She sees everything. She can read a cereal box from across the room and see so many things from the bus.”
Mia’s parents wear glasses, as does her big sister, Makayla aged six, who also received her first glasses at age four.
Maribel knows MEND well as she volunteers here as a Medical Clinic receptionist and helps in the dispensary and Eye Care Clinic. Mia’s care, she said, was wonderful.
Appointments fill up quickly for the volunteer optometrist who works at MEND on Tuesdays and for optometry students on Wednesdays and Fridays. Patients with more serious eye problems are referred to an ophthalmologist at Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar.
MEND’s Medical and Eye Care Clinics are run by volunteer health professionals and serve low-income patients of all ages who have no health insurance or other health care coverage. Last year, the physicians had over 5200 patient encounters.
The Lions Club and Western University College of Optometry partner with MEND to provide vision services including eye exams, glaucoma testing and prescription glasses free of charge to all patients.
By Volunteer, Pat Aidem