Voices of AmeriCorps: Community Partnerships

“Before starting this project, I did not understand the importance of community partnerships and involvement when trying to organize workshops likes this one and other similar functions. I’ve learned that, sometimes, to be able to help is to know somebody who is able to help. This idea demonstrates why community partners are so important, for as we continue to forge relationships with each other we, at the same time, strengthen each other’s ability to help those that we serve.”

-Andre Crotte, WMU graduate and co-developer of the Spanish-language Financial Education & Foreclosure Prevention Workshop

Crystal Elissetche
Crystal Elissetche, MFPC member serving at Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services

By Crystal Elissetche, Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Corps Member

From Southern Texas to Michigan
I am the daughter of Mexican-migrant parents. Currently, I am serving my second AmeriCorps term with the Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Corps at Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc. (KNHS) helping to lessen the impact of foreclosure.  But before arriving at AmeriCorps, I grew up on the Texas border in the 4th poorest county in Texas and where the dominant language is Spanglish. My formative years were spent traversing the United States following ‘the crops’ all the way from Texas to Michigan onto Washington and back to Texas. These experiences forced upon me an awareness of the inequalities and poverty that plague the United States. Having borne witness to the exploitation of people during my young life is what fuels my passion for helping underserved groups, especially migrant and immigrant communities. It is this passion that has led me to AmeriCorps, and which motivates me every day during my service year. Fueled by this passion, I have dedicated my second term to expanding foreclosure prevention services to Kalamazoo’s Spanish-speaking community. A task that is too big to tackle alone.

Growing Hispanic Community
According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, Kalamazoo, MI has experienced a double digit increase of Hispanic residents from 2000 to 2010. Kalamazoo’s Hispanic population increased 43% to 4, 736, “…making efforts to increase educational and economic opportunities to the Hispanic community vital to the region’s future…” (2011, Growth in Population of Hispanic People in Kalamazoo Points to need for Better Education, MLive.com). After critically considering and analyzing the needs of Kalamazoo’s Hispanic community, I realized there is a gap in services for monolingual residents, leading me to the idea of a Spanish-language Financial Education & Foreclosure Prevention Workshop. Thankfully, I had the full support of KNHS and due to connections formed at a previous service project, I had a strong network of local partners also willing to help. One of these partners happened to be Western Michigan University Professor Michael Millar.

Connecting Households to Foreclosure Assistance
Working with Professor Millar and his service-learning class, I recruited and directed two WMU students to structure and execute the workshop. Modeled after KNHS’ early programming, the workshop became a tool to assess community need and to begin mapping out how services are currently accessed by Kalamazoo’s Spanish speaking community. Three service agencies, including Telamon, Inc., Community Federal Credit Union, and The Kalamazoo People’s Coop, along with six volunteers, assisted in launching the workshop. New connections were formed and existing connections have been strengthened as a result. Our collective effort has resulted in a substantial increase in the number of Spanish speaking households seeking KNHS foreclosure assistance.

Professor Millar is committed to continuing a partnership with KNHS and the future MFPC member. Beginning in the fall of 2014, WMU students will be tasked with launching mobile-workshops that address financial literacy and foreclosure prevention. KNHS and I believe this service project is the start of something big in Kalamazoo.

Crystal Elissetche is an AmeriCorps member at Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc. in Kalamazoo.

This post is part of a blog series highlighting the viewpoints of Michigan AmeriCorps Foreclosure Prevention Corps members serving at different foreclosure host sites around Michigan. View information about the program or see more stories in this series.