Helping Hispanic Neighbors
A record setting wave of immigration continues to change the needs of communities across the United States. As Heidi Robinson reports, one woman’s work bridges the language barrier to help immigrant families transition to life in a new country.
(Locator: Sweetwater, Tenn.)
They call her “the angel,” and she’s come to visit.
Karen Neff/”Open Doors” Ministry: “Hola mi Jasmine, hola mi Ruthie.”
Karen Neff directs an outreach program that takes her inside the homes and lives of the 50 Hispanic families living in this east Tennessee trailer park. Laura Cisneros-Jimenez is due to deliver her fourth baby, and she speaks no English.
Laura Cisneros-Jimenez: “Hola Miss Karen. Como esta?”
Karen Neff: “E como esta my baby?”
Laura Cisneros-Jimenez: “Bien”
Karen is Laura’s voice during doctor’s appointments.
Karen Neff: “Little by little, I gained their trust just by being friends, listening to them, help meeting their needs.”
Karen draws inspiration from this community…learning their lifestyle, and experiencing true friendship.
Karen Neff: “I just love being with the people and sharing their lives stories and their and how they got here.”
It is also Karen’s comforting presence that draws the children to this mobile home, which has become the heart of the community.
Karen Neff: “We’re so happy to be at Club today.”
Funded by six United Methodist churches, this mobile home, called “Open Doors,” is a place where the children of the neighborhood find acceptance, help with homework, and even check-ups from visiting physicians. It is also a venue for musical performances.
Karen Neff: “Okay girls, are we ready?”
“Adios problemas, adios problemas.”
This children’s choir practices on this low porch every week, and performs at churches around the area. In Spanish, the girls sing “adios problemas” which means “goodbye to problems” – a message at the heart of Karen’s work, helping families transition into American life and leave behind the barriers of culture and language.
Karen Neff: “It’s such an honor that I can be just a little bit of an angel in their life.”
Twenty-five children attended summer camp for the first time because of the money earned by the children's choir. The program has been such a success that Karen is expanding into a second mobile home neighborhood of Hispanic families.
For more information, contact Karen Neff, director of Hispanic Ministry for the United Methodist churches in the area, at 865-599-7960.