Fernando Baruch | Making Change through Challenges
Fernando Baruch has lived in Hendersonville since he was one year old. But he’s not a U.S. citizen.
So when he heard of Conserving Carolina’s Summer of Service program, it looked like he would be left out of the opportunity for young Americans.
A Summer of Service
Fernando first learned about Summer of Service through his connection with El Centro, a local nonprofit that works to connect the Latinx population with resources and involvement opportunities. Co-director Carolina McCready informed Fernando of the opportunity and encouraged him to apply.
Fernando was a strong candidate for the team, but his documentation status made him ineligible to become a member of the federal program. So, members of Conserving Carolina staff got creative to find the financial resources needed to support his participation in the program.
Soon, Fernando began working as a member of the five-person Summer of Service crew. The team engaged in various projects including event planning, trail maintenance, habitat restoration, and natural playscape construction.
“It was something different every day,” he said. “It was a lot of information to take in, but I definitely learned that we have to take care of our environment.”
Throughout the term, Fernando proved himself to be a hard-working, dedicated associate. Community Engagement Manager and SOS Program Coordinator Tony Beurskens quickly noticed Fernando’s efforts in challenging himself for the sake of growth.
“Since day one, he has been open to the opportunities that present themselves to him,” Tony said. “He is a leader and a positive example to his family and his community.”
Building Close Connections
The primary goal of the Summer of Service is to provide young adults with opportunities to learn about themselves and cultivate their personal, professional and general life skills through hands-on service projects and community involvement.
Little did Fernando know, this experience would result in a close relationship with the program coordinator, Tony. Throughout the three-month term, Tony was not only the planner of service projects, but also a mentor and an ear for Fernando and fellow team members to share their opinions and experiences.
“He wasn’t just the coordinator; we could open up to him and tell him different things and just have talks when we were done working,” Fernando said. “I feel like he was like family. He’s not just somebody I work with, you know.”
Connections like this are a priority in the Summer of Service. The program aims to present possibilities for personal cultivation by going beyond the typical summer position. By connecting through adversity and triumph, team members gain a better understanding of themselves and other individuals and, in turn, develop lasting friendships.
A Tough Situation for DACA Students
Fernando has been a resident of Western North Carolina his entire life, aside from spending the first year in Mexico. So, despite his country of origin, the U.S. is the home to all of his memories and personal connections.
“I don’t remember anything from Mexico; I wish that I could go back there and see my roots and my family, but I can’t obviously.” he said. “DACA students aren’t allowed to travel out of the United States.” DACA refers to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy that allows some young residents who are not U.S. citizens to live and work in the country, at least temporarily.
In his hometown of Hendersonville, Fernando is now attending Blue Ridge Community College to earn his associate’s degree in science, but he still faces obstacles to his education.
As a DACA student, Fernando is charged out-of-state tuition at every institution of higher learning. He pays triple the amount of a typical student. Because of this, he has to make each decision carefully, keeping finances always in mind.
“I have to be really smart and think about different ways to get funds, because it’s a lot of money,” Fernando said. “It’s a tough situation that we’re in, all DACA students.”
He hasn’t yet decided where he will pursue a bachelor’s degree, but he knows that he wants to have a career in physical or occupational therapy. Fernando is hopeful that opportunities for DACA students will become more present in the near future.
“A lot of things are gonna change soon, just as long as we try,” Fernando said. “As long as we try to find new ways, we can find them.”
Transforming a Community
El Centro recently recognized Conserving Carolina with a certificate of appreciation for the efforts made during and beyond the Summer of Service program.
Conserving Carolina staff now regularly attend El Centro community meetings and events and are developing awareness of undocumented Latinx realities, learning to solve problems by tackling root issues and seeking justice, and working towards more inclusive practices within the organization.
“Thanks to programs like the summer program offered by Conserving Carolina, Fernando is further developing his sense of place in Henderson County and blossoming as a community leader.” El Centro Co-Director Carolina McCready said. “Successes like Fer’s take time, community investment and authentic relationships.”
Article and photos by Jennifer Barnett, AmeriCorps Project Conserve Community Outreach and Education Associate