A Notre-Dame AmeriCorps Experience

By Heriberto "Hippie" Guzman, Jr., NDA Apopka Member, 1999-2000

Eight years have passed since high school graduation and the face of the community has changed. I was left behind, but in the last nine months in Notre Dame-AmeriCorps I have matured. It has helped me accept that I did not plan to fail, that I just failed to plan. So with this ending comes a new beginning for me.

Being the son of farmworkers was a real challenge. I was born in the United States although my parents’ homeland is Mexico. They decided to leave Mexico because of the economic situation even though they were teachers there. Due to their lack of English, they landed several jobs in the agriculture industry. At first, they were migrant workers who traveled from state to state following the crop seasons. That’s why I was born in Michigan. Finally, they landed in the state of Florida to work with Aduda and Sons, an agribusiness company. Here my family was able to be stable. We made our home in a trailer in a labor camp where my father worked. Now being stable, the children were able to attend one school, instead of three or four different schools a year.

Long days, hard work, and low pay kept my family in a bind where progress seemed unattainable. My parents worked long days to make ends meet, leaving us unsupervised all day to fend for ourselves. I finally graduated in May of 1992 from high school. I thought I had accomplished a very huge goal. Then I realized that I encountered an enormous obstacle called life. I wasn't prepared; not having had enough resources growing up, I was disoriented. I began the cycle that my father had indirectly passed down to me and got a job where I was comfortable. After six years of working the agriculture industry in a mushroom plant, I had reached the American dream: a home for my family, two automobiles, and financial stability. This was too good to be true. After I had accomplished my goals I felt like a dead man walking – with no direction, no motivation, and no more goals. This was very uncomfortable for me.

In September of 1999, I joined the Notre Dame-AmeriCorps program and took a huge risk because having a house payment and a wife and daughter to support required a full-time job. I had no skills that could be implemented in AmeriCorps, since the only skill I had was to operate heavy equipment. The students didn't have any handles and buttons to push or move in the direction that I wanted. It was so painful that I wanted to quit in the first couple of weeks and just go back to work. But working with the students in the schools and mentoring them brought out profound wounds, which I had buried. It was like I was watching videotapes of my life being played out. Instead of helping the students, they helped me out indirectly. They helped me put closure to my past, so a new beginning would sprout. I was able to walk in the shoes of the students and look through their eyes at my past. I recognized the mistakes I had made and put an ending to my struggle. I probably didn't change all "F's" to "A's" or teach them all to speak English. I just hope through my stories, ideas, experiences, and struggles I was able to plant a seed of hope among them. Now, my new task is to nurture the seeds I have planted in the students.

This year I've found out that in order to receive, one must first give. Through AmeriCorps I gave my services to the community that I grew up in. Finally, the community has given me hope, healing, and a new direction in life. I would like to thank all the wonderful people for the tremendous support they have given me. But most of all I would like to give thanks to the NDA program for giving me the opportunity to serve my community!

Read about our site in Apopka.

Notre Dame Mission Volunteers - Americorps
5405 Loch Raven Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21239
Phone:(410) 532-6864 - Fax: (410) 532-2418