Recently, a college student, who is pursuing a degree in social work, asked to interview me about my experience as a community advocate. She was focusing on my role as a public health nurse for over 32 years in the Kennett area, and the natural position I held to advocate for the vulnerable community.
This interview took me down memory lane, as I reviewed the diverse cultures that showed up in the Southern Chester County area to serve the mushroom industry from the 1980s onward. With the arrival of new ethnic groups, advocacy was needed to assure that all community members were represented and included in the town.
The student interviewer started with the question; “How does one know when community advocacy is needed?” I responded: “When someone or a group does not have the resources and capacity to speak for themselves, advocacy, within a community process, is needed to bring attention to the strengths and needs of this vulnerable group to help integrate them into the larger community.” In other words, make visible the silent and bring them into the fold.
When Bob George and I wrote the book, The Story of Kennett: Shaping Our Future One Child at a Time,” we reported on the demographics of the borough of Kennett Square. We learned that 48% of the borough residents are Latino--nearly one-half of our borough’s residents. It also was obvious that thisvulnerable group was in the background of our successful town.
In 2015 the Kennett Borough Council voted to form ACOLA (Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs), a representative group to advocate and keep the borough of Kennett Square informed of issues and needs related to the Latino community.
ACOLA has worked diligently to better understand how the larger community can help this silent majority. ACOLA advocates are walking in the shoes of the Latino residents. BeingLatino or closely associated themselves,they understand the richness of their culture and what they have to contribute to the broader community. They also understand the many restraints the Latinoborough resident has as amigrant, engaging a new life in another country.
On April 20, 2020, The Borough Council of Kennett Square approved ACOLA’s five priorityareas for creating a quality of life for the Latino members of our Kennett area community:
1) Housing—Support rental inspection metrics and accountability.
2) Jobs—Increase more skilled job opportunities and attract companies that will offer these jobs to local residents.
3) Drivers Licenses---Endorse driver’s license rights for undocumented PA residents
4) Cross-cultural outreach—Provide trainings for borough employees and local organizations for better understanding.
5) Standing with refugees—Request for the borough to pass a resolution.
One might say that addressing these priorities are a beginning. In removing some of the restraints that keep 48% of our borough residents in the background and limited in making their full contribution to our community life, we will have a better community.
In concluding my interview with the social work student, I was asked what advice I would give her around community advocacy. I believe my response was in concert with how I see the ACOLA group working: “You need to keep your heart connected with this work and stay away from being judgmental on all sides. As an advocate, you have access to resources and knowledge that can help a vulnerable person or group be represented as part of the whole. On the other side, never do something for others that they can do for themselves---instead; encourage, empower and help; walking side by side.