When Miriam first arrived at BRIDGES at Highland, she had one goal in mind - to improve her English language skills.
A recent immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Miriam knew that the key to success was communication and when she heard about the free language classes BRIDGES offered, she knew she must check it out.
“When I came here, I was pregnant. I didn’t drive and I couldn’t do anything,” she said.
Unlike many BRIDGES parents, Miriam does not live in the same neighborhood as Highland Elementary and since she didn’t drive, Miriam would often walk with her young children to her classes.
“I needed to do something and that’s when I discovered BRIDGES,” she said. “All the people here became my family. My mom and my sister still live in the Dominican Republic, so I have found a family here at BRIDGES and I am so grateful.”
Seeing her potential for leadership, Outreach Coordinator Jose convinced her to become a facilitator so she could help other parents unlock their potential.
“It was amazing,” Miriam enthused. “I can help others who come here. The last program I did focused on the community. We discussed the principle problem for us which is safety and security. Officer Benito came and explained about community policing and how they can help us.”
Building a strong neighborhood is of imperative importance to Miriam.
“We have shirts and maps. It is a group of 12-14 people and we meet every 22 days to discuss how we are going to make our community better,” she said. “When we have activities, we wear our shirts proudly!”
Before moving to the United States, Miriam was a lawyer. She had been practicing family law for six years and left her career when her first son was born.
Now, Miriam works in Child Watch at the very same BRIDGES site which connected her to her new community.
Although it is a far cry from courtrooms and filing briefs, Miriam loves her new position.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I enjoy my work because I have two kids but I think of all of the BRIDGES kids as my own.”
She says practicing law and working in child watch has more similarities than people would think.
“You help people. You help families,” she said. “Here, it is a good space for moms. Sometimes at home, moms don’t know how to help their babies learn.”
A woman who prioritizes education, Miriam is considering enrolling in classes at Palm Beach State College.
“Sometimes, I think I would like to be a lawyer in this country,” she said. “I know it’s not easy but I would work hard.”
Right now, Miriam seems to appreciate the path she’s on.
“I want to do a better job here with the kids,” she said. “If I can, I would like to take a course in Child Watch. I need to continue. I need to improve.”
She pulls out her phone to show me pictures of her family celebrating Christmas. Her oldest child - nine-year-old Onassis - wants to follow in his mother’s footsteps and study law as well.
“My baby wants to be a lawyer,” she said with a chuckle. “I bought him a suit and he dresses up in it – ‘Mama, take my picture!’”
She stresses the importance of education to her children and seems on a continual quest for self-improvement.
“I want my babies to behave well,” she said. “It’s so important to study. It is important to respect others and your elders. It is important to respect yourself and respect God.”
Focusing on an image of her sons in front of their Christmas tree, she sighs softly and grins.
“My babies are growing up,” she said. “If I keep working at Child Watch, I can help more babies! If I had ten babies, I would want to help more!”
Above all, Miriam is suffused with gratitude. Gratitude for living in the United States, gratitude for BRIDGES and gratitude for her ability to help her community
“In my country, we don’t have many opportunities to help people like this,” she says, gesturing around the classroom at BRIDGES at Highland. “People want to help but they don’t have an organization they can join.”
Her voice catches as she looks around.
“I get emotional,” she says with a soft smile. “I like participating in the activities here. I am so grateful.”