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Carmen Myers epitomizes ‘the power of one’

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 | Posted by | no responses
Carmen Myers helps Liliana Martinez study for her naturalization test as part of her nonprofit agency, HUG. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Carmen Myers helps Liliana Martinez study for her naturalization test as part of her nonprofit agency, HUG. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

 

By MARY JO WINTER / Cloverdale TOWNS correspondent

Born and raised in Guatemala, 67-year-old Carmen Myers is passionately proud of her American citizenship, so much so that for the last 27 years she has been helping other immigrants achieve the American dream of citizenship through a program she founded entitled HUG “For The Making Of New Americans.”

The primary goals of HUG, which stands for “Humanity Unity Group,” are:

• Promote the acquisition of United States Citizenship by immigrants of any country who are living legally in the USA.

• Promote and teach the English language as a tool to integration and understanding of United States History, culture and its way of life.

• Promote Family Literacy with emphasis on Early Literacy teachings for parents to help their children to be successful in school, graduate from High School and go to trade schools or college if they choose it and have the ability to do so.

“I was fortunate to have good parents,” Myers said. “My father instilled in me that knowledge is power. There was not money to buy books or a public library to borrow books from, so he would go to the city garbage dump to find books for me and my sister to read.”

When she was 23, her friend and Anthropology professor helped her secure a visa to come to America to study the language. She arrived in Los Angeles not knowing a word of English. A mix-up in plans resulted in a 22-hour bus trip to Utah, where she lived for the next five months.

Myers taught herself English by watching television for 12 hours every day for three months while her host family was at work. Afterwards, she moved to Southern California for 13 months where she took adult education classes to polish her new-found skills before returning to Guatemala.

“Coming to the United States, I felt overwhelmed with the freedom and opportunities. It was a life-changing event for me.

Myers met and married her American husband in Guatemala.  After the devastating earthquake of 1976, they returned to the U.S. with their young son, settling in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley.

CarmenCommuting long hours for several weeks, and riding three different buses to the National Immigrants Law Center in downtown Los Angeles, she earned her Special National Immigration Paralegal Training certificate. The course was created to be able to meet the demand for Immigration services during President Reagan’s 1986 Amnesty Program.

Armed with that training, Myers worked and volunteered as an immigration counselor and advisor for several churches before moving to Cloverdale in 1992. Initially, she volunteered as an ESL instructor and worked for Goodwill as an employment specialist, facilitating initial and post-employment workshops.

As part of SonomaWorks’ “Welfare to Work” program, she provided individual and group job search services to limited-English language participants, helping them better understand the American work culture. She continues that work with HUG, a grassroots program personally funded by Myers and her husband. For more information about HUG, call 894-2174 or email winak@thegrid.net.

Many of her clients are illiterate, and many never went to school. She starts by teaching them to read and write. “Everything goes back to literacy,” she says, “everything.”

Before Myers accepts them, clients must be willing to meet her strict requirements.

“They need to have a personal investment in the citizenship process,” she says. “They have to prove to me they are making a commitment to become a citizen, and the first step is for them to learn English.”

Myers believes education has watered down history. “America was not created by an act of magic. It was built in another time and we cannot take that for granted. Even Americans seem to have forgotten our forefathers came here for freedom and a better life.”

One student, a 36-year-old man, made her especially proud when he became a citizen. He had never been to school and needed help learning to hold a pencil and sign his name. He spent three years completing the HUG program and learning English.

Cloverdale City Manager Paul Cayler, who studies Spanish with her each Friday, describes Myers as a catalyst for positive activity and action. “She likes to make things happen. Her perspective on our liberty and freedom in America is humbling.”

All of the citizenship preparation services offered by Myers through the HUG program are free. Participants pay only for their books and other learning materials, and for the citizenship fees that go directly to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

To date, she has helped 438 people become US citizens through her program.

“I am very happy that these people will embrace and celebrate our country,” she says. “Citizenship is both a gift and a privilege. It should not be taken lightly.”

 

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Mary Jo Winter is our Cloverdale correspondent.
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