One day a young teen nervously walked into the Baldwin-based community center, 3 D’s Aftercare Inc., for an interview, and once she started talking about her desire to help the Latinx community learn English, the nerves melted away and her drive seeped through.
“When I asked her what she was passionate about, she started to cry about helping the Hispanic community learn the language to be accepted more,” recalled Dr. ZodeliaWilliams, the founder of the community center. “I knew she was going to be my new mentee. It was the best decision ever!”
That teen was Hempstead resident Sheilly Martinez. She and Williams teamed up to create a course to address the communication issues that Williams noticed a few doors down from the center at a local deli, where several native Spanish speakers struggled to speak English.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, those who speak Spanish at home in Suffolk and Nassau County has increased by around 25.3% between 2013 and 2017. The Latino population over the past nine years on Long Island has increased by around 18.5%.
The 17-year-old Academy Charter School High School senior, who is a Latina, took the reins and taught the ESL, or English as Second Language, course to about 10 students who were 20 or older.
“Growing up, I had to help my parents a lot when it came to translating,” said Sheilly. “Since then I’ve realized how important communication is.”
Sheilly is originally from Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, and she moved to Hempstead when she was two.
“My parents decided to come to the U.S. because they wanted a better life for me and my sister,” said Sheilly. “They realized that coming here could lead to me having better opportunities than they had when they were young.”
Aside from tutoring, she had never taught in this capacity before, but she loved and was grateful for the experience.
“Teaching the course was extremely fun and exciting,” said Sheilly. “It was a great feeling having my students understand the lessons.”
Sheilly wants to continue helping the growing Latinx population through her studies. She plans on going to college to study political science and engineering. After college, the driven student is determined to go to law school and use her skills to come back and further assist her community.
“I have a passion for helping out immigrants and my community,” said Sheilly. “I felt the need to create this course because it would help them feel confident.”
The course is planned to start back up again next summer.