BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Elsa Galarza is an industrial engineer who volunteers with Catholic Charities. Because she was originally an immigrant from Mexico and is still fluent in Spanish, the Catholic volunteer coordinators assigned her to Spanish-speaking immigrants.
Elsa knows first-hand the struggle to blend in. She told me when she first arrived, doctor's offices and receptionists of all kinds would misunderstand her first name and call her "Eliza." However, she says introductions are a breeze now that the Disney movie "Frozen" has become a box-office record breaker and has a main character named Elsa.
For the past two years, Galarza has worked with a family of Cuban immigrants.
Leonor Ayala and her daughter Vanessa Hernandez landed in Baton Rouge the week of July 4th with a language to learn and a school for Vanessa to start classes in. Several weeks into the school year, Vanessa was struggling. She did not speak English, and the school was not equipped to mainstream her as they were in that class.
That's when Catholic Charities reached for Elsa Galarza. She stepped in and immediately started helping Vanessa with her homework, her English and found a better classroom atmosphere with more support. Vanessa now attends St. Louis King of France School and two years later, she's keeping up with the rest of the class and doing well.
Galarza told me that English lessons are more hands-on. She's taken Vanessa to get ice cream, so words for "cone" and all the flavors are vivid and memorable. Galarza couldn't say enough about how beautiful the new main library is and how she and Vanessa have enjoyed both studying and finding simple and gradually more difficult books to read. Slowly but surely, "biblioteca" has become "library" for Vanessa and "helado" is now "ice cream."
Galarza says Catholic Charities tailors the child you mentor to your life and family.
"I have a daughter, she's about the same age as Vanessa. And when we first met, they were like, hang together, but they used to speak in Spanish. The last couple of weeks, I have seen them and Vanessa is talking to her in English and we were like 'Oh my God!'" Galarza said excitedly.
Vanessa and Ayala have just moved in to a home near Broadmoor High School. With things still in boxes, a whole chapter of their new American life is beginning.
Elsa says you can't imagine how much fun, but also how rewarding it is to volunteer. She says there is no doubt you're making a difference in someone's life.
Capital One Bank, The United Way's Volunteer Center and WAFB are proud to honor people like Elsa Galarza with our Power of 9 Volunteer Award.