One Way or Another, COVID Will Get You: Uninfected Yet Greatly Affected

On a bustling Friday morning, the aroma of rice and beans wafts through a cloud of hairspray in Romy’s Beauty Salon in Meriden. Merengue music soothes the senses. Customers exchange pleasantries in Spanish as Romy Norwood offers each a small bowl of “arroz y habichuela,� the Dominican staple of rice and beans. Later in the day, Norwood repeats the courtesy with small mugs of strong coffee, “cafecito,� prepared by her mother, Yolanda Sosa, in the kitchenette in the rear of the shop. Unlike Norwood and her mother, most clients aren’t wearing a mask.

Neither Norwood nor anyone in her immediate family has been infected with COVID-19. Norwood, 46, and her husband, Jeffrey Norwood, 65, live in Cheshire with their children Jennifer, 14, and Ramon, 12, and their dog, Zeus. Since the start of the pandemic, Norwood says, they have been vigilant about wearing masks, social distancing and getting tested and vaccinated. Two beloved aunts succumbed to COVID in the Dominican Republic, where Norwood grew up, but everyone else in her family has remained healthy, including 73-year-old Sosa, who splits time between Norwood’s Cheshire home and her own home in the Dominican Republic.

By all accounts, Norwood and her loved ones appear to have dodged the most severe health outcomes of COVID. This is especially good news for the Norwoods since Black and Hispanic families have been disproportionately impacted by the virus in health outcomes and as small-business owners. According to a report by the U.S. Small Business Association, the total number of people who were self-employed and working declined by 20.2% between April 2019 and April 2020. Hispanic people experienced a more significant decline, at 26%. The biggest declines were experienced among Asian and Black people, with 37.1% for Asians and 37.6% for Blacks.

Norwood’s beauty salon was shuttered for almost six months during the pandemic. “I didn’t have an emergency plan,� Norwood says in Spanish. Some clients died of COVID, and others simply have not returned to her salon. She decided to forgo a federal PPP loan and incurred credit card debt. She estimates her business has returned to 75% of its pre-pandemic performance.

“One way or another, COVID will get you,� Norwood says about the mental fatigue her family has experienced. She says hypervigilance, anxiety and fear have crept in, replacing many of the happy feelings they had when they settled in Connecticut. The disease has taken an emotional toll on the family. They have been uninfected yet greatly affected by COVID.

Seeking Refuge From COVID

While taking a leisurely Sunday drive through Meriden in 2006, Norwood was attracted to the city’s quiet beauty and spirit. There were Black and brown people like her and Jeffrey. Spanish was spoken in bodegas. At the time, the couple was living and working in West Haven after having met in The Bronx. Norwood also liked that Meriden was far enough away from West Haven that she would not work in direct competition with her former beauty salon employer. So, she and Jeffrey, a physician at the West Haven VA Medical Center, moved to Meriden, and she opened Romy’s Beauty Salon on West Main Street. They lived in the upstairs apartment. In 2007, they were married in Jamao al Norte, Norwood’s hometown in the fertile Cibao region of the Dominican Republic.

Yolanda Sosa, 73, prepares a Dominican-style lunch at Romy’s Beauty Salon in Meriden.
Sosa splits time between Connecticut and her home in the Dominican Republic.

In Meriden, Norwood established a loyal clientele, and the couple started their family. Business was good. They became parishioners at Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church, where today Norwood serves as a eucharistic minister and a leader on the parish council. As Jennifer and Ramon grew up, the family began to vacation two or three times a year—the Bahamas, Mexico, Italy, Punta Cana. They went on cruises.

On March 21, 2020, the Norwoods flew to the Turks and Caicos Islands to seek refuge from the global pandemic. Looking over their shoulders on the flight from Bradley International Airport, they realized they were the only passengers on the plane, Norwood says. When they arrived at Providenciales, Norwood recalls, tourists were scrambling to leave the island. The last flight to the United States departed shortly after their arrival. They initially embraced the lockdown in their hotel room, thinking they would weather the hype and fly home to normalcy.

Then all flights were grounded in Turks and Caicos. A curfew was imposed. They were permitted outdoors for one hour a day. Groceries at the local supermarket were rationed. Food quickly became a scarce resource. Leftovers, Norwood says, became the dreaded meal of the day. They were stuck, marooned on a tropical island, and weren’t even allowed to swim.

Then the hotel manager demanded $10,000 a week from Jeffrey Norwood to remain in their room beyond their original reservation. So, they found an online rental, bought linens and rid the house of cockroaches. It was a mess, Norwood says. They hunkered down.

Their only outside contact was Zeus, a scroungy, flea-infested watchdog.

At first, the family didn’t have much to do with the spotted pit bull-dalmatian mix. They kept their distance. “Could he transmit the virus?� Norwood recalls thinking at the time, given the widespread uncertainty about COVID. Zeus was always hungry and thirsty. He scratched at their front door at night. Later they would learn he had been whipped with sticks and left outdoors during hurricanes.

Then one day, Zeus joined the family on a walk during their one hour outdoors. When he was grazed and injured by a passing vehicle and began yelping, recalls Norwood, they decided to allow him into the house to clean him up and help him heal. Thus began the process of adopting Zeus.

During a lull on a hot summer day, Yolanda Sosa washes her daughter Romy Norwood’s hair in Romy’s Beauty Salon in Meriden.

The Norwoods spent a month on the island before Jeffrey chartered a private jet from Miami to fly his family home to Connecticut on April 17, 2020. They submitted the paperwork for Zeus. A month later, Jeffrey drove to Miami, picked up Zeus and returned to Cheshire.

“I believe Zeus is an angel,� says Norwood, her eyes sparkling, as she recounts how the Turks and Caicos misadventure represents both the best and worst of their pandemic experiences. “God sent him to care for and protect us,� she says. Today, she says, “Zeus is king of the house. He has three beds, all the food he wants,� adding that he adores her mom.

‘Up To Here With COVID’

COVID has affected the Norwood family in myriad ways.

“We’re without life,� Norwood says in Spanish while taking a break between clients at her salon. No more family movie nights with popcorn, she says. No vacations. No romantic getaways. No games. No fun.

There have been a few weekend trips to New Hampshire, where they rent a house, but they take their food and sequester, Norwood says. The kids don’t want to go back to New Hampshire, she says, because they aren’t allowed to leave the house. “I’m up to here with COVID,� says Norwood. “I don’t want to hear anything else about COVID.�

She says her mom’s help at home and in the salon has been unconditional. After the debacle on Turks and Caicos, Norwood described how she would come home from the salon, strip down in a separate area and shower. Her mom’s Dominican cooking was always waiting for her. “My mother is everything to me,� she says.

Her husband is fearful of getting COVID. Norwood says her husband doesn’t talk about what he has experienced as a physician on the front lines. He still wears two masks and goggles or a shield, whether he’s getting gas or going to a Mets game, Norwood says. In 2018, the couple relocated to Cheshire for its schools. When they returned to school, Jennifer and Ramon had fallen behind. Norwood says Jennifer has become less sociable and more of a homebody. She avoids crowds lest she be exposed to the virus. She has been bullied at school, where classmates have ridiculed her hair and body type. Her children have become anxious, Norwood says.

During the spike in infections last December, Norwood decided to keep Ramon home from school until the end of February, when he turned 12 and was eligible for the adult vaccine. She felt the higher dosage would be more protective and worth the wait. However, school officials hounded Norwood about Ramon’s absence. She suspects online instruction is purposely inferior to persuade parents to return their children to school.

“Tengo temor porque el COVID es impredecible,� Norwood says in Spanish. “I’m fearful because COVID is unpredictable.� It may not affect you at all or it may send you to the hospital, she says. She fears for her children and her elderly mother. With all of her precautions, clients still sneeze while touching their hair, face and shoulders, she says. Many have later called to inform her that they’ve tested positive. Jeffrey prefers that she close the salon and not work, she says.

Romy Norwood puts her feet up at the end of a 10-hour day at her beauty salon. A Dominican hair stylist, she was forced to close her business during the initial 6 months of the pandemic in 2020 and says she has recovered about 75% of what her business was earning before COVID-19.

“I got the works,� says longtime customer Jeannette Solano, 53, of Meriden, about getting her hair washed, colored and beautified by Norwood on a recent Saturday afternoon. For Solano, the salon experience is a reprieve from the daily grind of the pandemic. “Estaba muy triste,� she says in Spanish, “I was very sad� about Norwood salon’s hiatus in 2020. Describing Norwood as friendly, humble and fun to be around, she says she stops in once a month. “Romy does it right,� she says, explaining how a hairdresser recently damaged her hair during a visit home to the Dominican Republic. Solano has received two doses of the Moderna vaccine, she says.

During an afternoon lull at the salon, the air conditioner quits. Norwood sits down and asks Sosa to wash her hair. A few minutes later, Norwood’s back on her feet. At the end of her 10-hour shift, the salon is quiet. Norwood sits beneath a hair dryer, elevates her bare feet and closes her eyes for 20 minutes. “I need this,� she says.

In July, Norwood, her children and her mother plan to vacation for three weeks in her “pueblo Dominicano,� Jamao al Norte. Jeffrey is not going, she says. “I miss my life before COVID. I miss the freedom. The river, the food, the people, the beach,� says Norwood during a break between clients. “I can’t wait.�

Cover Photo: Jennifer Rodriguez, 27, of Meriden, gets a “keratinaâ€� – which in Spanish means a straightening – by Romy Norwood. From left under hairdryer is Melissa Hernandez, of Middletown; Romy’s mother Yolanda Sosa; Rodriguez; and Norwood.

All photos by Patrick Raycraft.

Publisher’s Note: ‘One Way or Another, COVID Will Get You:’ Uninfected Yet Greatly Affected was first published on Connecticut Health I-Team.

CTLN and collaborate to best serve the Connecticut Hispanic, Latino community.

Gen U employees ask: “Is there a better way to work and live?”

Unions are having a comeback after years of declining influence. Employees from companies across the country are increasingly organizing to ask for more benefits, pay, and safety from their employers.

Experts say employee organizing at high-profile companies like Amazon, Apple, Trader Joe’s, and Starbucks is due to the pandemic inspiring workers to question, ‘is there another way to work and live?’ and the relationship dynamic between employers and workers.

Starbucks leads the surge of unionizations as baristas in over 200 stores across the country have filed for union elections. So far, 165 stores have won their elections, while only 26 stores have lost.

According to Fernando Vargas-Soto, a former Starbucks employee in Logan Square, the employees started thinking about unionizing back in December, when the company started rolling back some of their COVID policies despite the country’s surge of the Omicron variant at the time. He said the plastic barriers at the store’s counters were removed, and their COVID isolation pay (Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay) was reduced.

Former Starbucks employee Fernando Vargas-Soto was fired in May in what he says was a retaliatory move by Starbucks in response to his efforts to unionize the store.

“At one point, we actually had to physically get a positive test result from a clinic, at home test would not suffice,� he said. “When I got sick, I was only given five days of isolation. So I was still testing positive when I had to go back. So I was working while still testing positive.�

Workers at the Starbucks’ Loop location also struggled with the company’s COVID policies. According to Zero Muñoz, who works there, many employees had difficulty securing their sick pay from the company. Additionally, they often faced harassment from customers whenever they tried to enforce the city’s mask mandate at the time.

Another main concern baristas at Muñoz’s store had was security; staff had been asking for improvements from the company for months.

“We do not feel safe for a huge portion of the day,� Muñoz said. She added that a big trigger was how an angry customer had threatened to shoot the employees present at the store last year. According to her, management did not do anything to address their concerns about safety until after they had filed for a union election. At that point, the company assigned a security guard to her store. However, employees pointed out that the guard isn’t present all the time.

“We just wanted to feel more secure, we wanted to feel safer, and we wanted to feel better about our work environment,� Munoz said concerning why they decided to unionize.

Starbucks Accused of Anti-union Tactics 

Of those that voted to reject the union in the Chicago area, the Loop and Logan Square were among the locations.

“It’s pretty unfortunate; I definitely feel pretty frustrated and sad,� said Vargas-Soto. Their store had filed for union certification in early January, but voting didn’t happen until May. He said that he feels the long wait contributed to why their store ultimately voted against the union.

“The amount of time that we had to wait really allowed the team to feel tired,� he said. He added that during the months-long wait, anti-union workers and managers spent spreading misinformation and launching attacks on pro-union employees. The other store in Chicago that lost its elections also had a similar several-month-long wait in between their filing and their elections.

One employee was transferred to a different store without prior approval, while another had their hours cut so severely that they ultimately had to look for another job. Things came to a head when Vargas-Soto himself was fired in early May, which he says was retaliation from management for his union activities.

“I was fired because I was supposed to come in for work at 9 am, but because of the construction near my store, I had to park really far away,” he said. “I was told that the policy is if I know that I’m going to be late before my shift starts, I’m supposed to call the store to let them know that I would be late. So that’s what I did. And despite that, I was fired for being six minutes late.”

Vargas-Soto added that on previous occasions that he was late, management would single him out and reprimand or punish him despite other employees occasionally showing up to work late.

According to Workers United, Starbucks has aggressively pursued anti-union tactics against its employees and punished those who have led efforts to unionize. As a result, the union has filed more than 180 unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB’s Buffalo office has found “serious and substantial� misconduct on Starbucks’ end and has charged the company with more than 200 labor law violations.

The Barista Uprising

Before the Starbucks movement, other coffee shop employees in the city turned to unionization to address similar problems. Simon Rafet has worked for the past four months at Colectivo, a Wisconsin-based roaster and cafe chain with five Chicago-area locations. All Colectivo branches are unionized and represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBW). However, since they only unionized last year, they are still negotiating a contract.

IBW is also working to represent employees at Intelligentsia Coffee, which joined a still-growing wave of labor organizing among employees at coffee companies locally and across the U.S.

Pro-union staff at Intelligentsia’s six-city cafes and its Chicago Roasting Works warehouse in the West Loop submitted the petition in late May.

Like Starbucks employees, Rafet and his coworkers are fighting for better pay and company support.

A month ago, Rafet caught COVID from a coworker while on the job and had difficulty securing paid time off.

“I had to go beg for my PTO, and I only got 16 hours,� Rafet said.

Robert Bruno, the Director of the Labor Studies Program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), believes that unionization is the best path forward for workers to secure more rights for themselves.

“They have to take it upon themselves to speak for themselves and to collectively decide the conditions upon which they work,� Bruno said, adding that he believes that as more Starbucks stores win their respective elections, other industries will be inspired to organize as well.

68 percent of Americans approve of labor unions — the highest rate since 71 percent in 1965, according to Gallup poll

Bruno said that now, the political climate is very friendly to labor movements, with President Joe Biden expressing his support for unions in recent months. Biden promised to be the “most pro-union president ever� and has been very vocal about his support for the PRO Act, which aims to make the unionization process more accessible and less bureaucratic.

Many Americans share Biden’s support for unions. A Gallup poll conducted last September showed that 68 percent of Americans approve of labor unions — the highest rate since 71 percent in 1965, reported CNBC.

Richard Bensinger, a union organizer with Starbucks Workers United and a former organizing director of the AFL-CIO, tells the cable business news channel that he believes most of the pro-union workers are in their early 20s, prompting him they are part of a “Gen U� for unions.

Gallup data from 2021 also finds that young adults ages 18 to 34 approve of unions at 77 percent.

With that being said, Bruno acknowledged that Starbucks would probably continue to crack down on its employees in the coming months.

“I think they’ll continue to fire workers; I think they’ll continue to try to intimidate workers,” he said. “That’s an unfortunate tool that employers use.

Despite all these challenges, Vargas-Soto still believes he made the right choice in pushing for a union at his Starbucks store. He now works at Colectivo and says his experience there is more positive.

Vargas-Soto has reason to be optimistic. A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that in 2019, union members earned an average of 19% more than their nonunion counterparts.

“It’s night and day,” he said. “Employees are just a little bit happier,” Vargas-Soto noted that when employees are about to enter a conversation with management that feels punitive, they can discontinue the conversation and resume it later in the presence of a union representative.

“Just because we lost the election out of my (Starbucks) store doesn’t mean the fight’s over,” he said. “We’re not doing it simply because it’s a part of the moment. It’s what’s right. And when you’re doing what’s right, it doesn’t matter how long it takes.”

Raphael Hipos is a graduate student at Northwestern University with more than 2 years of experience in the media industry.

Hipos has worked with various organizations including ABS-CBN and CNN Philippines. He is skilled in the various aspects of television news production, which he studied extensively during his undergraduate education at the University of the Philippines.

You can follow him Twitter and on LinkedIn.

Publisher’s Note: Illinois Latino News (ILLN) collaborates with Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications in providing students with mentoring and real work experiences. As such, ILLN is part of the professional partnerships within the Social Justice Specialization and part of Medill’s Metro Media Lab.

Cover Photo by Mason McCall:

The post Employees organizing ask: “Is there a better way to work and live?” appeared first on ILLN.

CTLN Opinion+: Nandini Natarajan

Welcome to another episode of Connecticut Latino News Opinion+, where we talk about major issues the Latinx and underrepresented communities face in the community.

This week we spoke with Nandini Natarajan, CEO of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA), about the importance and status of affordable housing across the state. 

The CHFA has been dedicated to alleviating the shortage of affordable housing for low to moderate-income households throughout Connecticut since 1969, working alongside the governor and the Department of Housing. 

“We believe that all low and moderate-income families and residents should have a range of choices where they can live affordably in safe quality housing and environmentally stable and economically healthy communities,â€� Natarajan said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized all the different roles our homes can have in everyday life, Natarajan explained. People’s homes have become part-time remote classrooms, workspaces, and clinics for the past two years. 

“Home is not just four walls–it’s more than four walls, it’s more than a roof, it’s more than an investment,â€� she said. “It’s really our sanctuary, it’s our refuge.â€� 


  • Learn more about eligibility and sign-up for MyHomeCT at   
  • For more information on the Time To Own Assistance Program visit 
  • CHFA’s Call Center is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
    • (877) 894 – 4111  
  • To view available job openings, check out 

ILLN Opinion+: Oscar Sanchez

Welcome to another episode of Illinois Latino News Opinion+, where we talk about major issues the Latinx and other underrepresented communities face in the state.

This week we spoke with Oscar Sanchez, a local activist and the Community Planning Manager of the Southeast Environmental Task Force.

Sanchez said that recognizing his privilege motivated him to become active in his community. He is the son of immigrants and was raised on the Southeast Side of Chicago. He saw the advantages that he had over other members of his family, including being documented and being lighter complected.

His activism work started with advocating for undocumented people, but he says he has since taken a step back from this work and now acts as an ally in order to allow more space for people within the community.

“I’ve learned that the way you uplift voices of undocumented individuals is by allowing them to know that they themselves can be their own voices, they don’t need anyone else,â€� he said. 

Much of his work focuses on environmental racism, defined as a form of systemic racism in which laws or policies place the burden of environmental hazards in areas that directly impact people of color.

Sanchez said that the most polluted areas of the city overlap with areas where people experience the most respiratory issues, most often in Black and Brown neighborhoods. He called it a byproduct of segregation and housing policies formed in the 1930’s.

In order to proactively address and take action against these issues, Sanchez stressed the importance of recognizing the intersectionality between environmental issues and other major issues marginalized communities face, including labor rights and abortion rights, because there is a deep history of people’s concerns being neglected.

“For many years we’ve been silenced, or it hasn’t even been considered something to be ‘serious’ or of a priority.� He continued, “Yes it’s complex, but it’s intersectional. That means that if we move one part, it’ll move everything else and that’s why I always talk about [how] we have to do this together.�

The Southeast Side, which runs along the Indiana border, was once a booming industrial area. According to WTTW, the U.S. Steel Industry here once employed 40,000 people but when the industry collapsed during the ‘70’s and ‘80’s mass layoffs caused the economy to shift.

Sanchez was asked why he thought his community was overlooked by the media, politicians and other Chicagoans, in which he clarified that he felt the area was neglected and compared it to “vibrant� neighborhoods like Pilsen, which face gentrification.

“People look to be in a space that’s full of joy. The Southeast Side, we can be very honest- our community members are full of joy and they’re fighting that and looking to build that… but when you come outside our community you see all this scrap metal or you see all the different types of operations here you don’t want to be around that and we don’t either.�

Sanchez has been fighting against environmental racism and injustices in his neighborhood since he was in his early twenties. He participated in a hunger strike to prevent metal scrapper General Iron from moving their operation to the Southeast Side. He also co-founded the Southwest Youth Alliance in 2018 to amplify opportunities for young people in his neighborhood.

“Youth are our living future right now and if we empower them, we give them love and we embrace them, they’re the ones that are going to create the future you need,� said Sanchez.


Southeast Environmental Task Force:
WTTW’s report on the Southeast Side:

Hunger strike against General Iron:

Southeast Youth Alliance on IG: @southeastyouthalliance

Free water quality test kits:

List of community resources:

Housing resources guide

Twitter and IG handles: oso_campeon 

Southeast Environmental Task Force

Twitter: SE_TaskForce

IG: se_taskforce

The post appeared first on ILLN.

NHLN Opinion+: Josie Pinto

Welcome to another episode of New Hampshire Latino News Opinion+, where we talk about major issues the Latinx and underrepresented communities face in the state.

This week we spoke with Josie Pinto, the Co-founder and Executive Director of The Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire (RFFNH).

Pinto’s career in reproductive justice orginated with her sexual assault advocacy work while enrolled as a student at The University of Massachussetts Amherst. She said that while in college, she met and networked with people from within the reproductive justice community and became the president of her campus’ Planned Parenthood chapter.

When she moved to The Granite State, she noticed the difference in the amount of resources available for locals.

“I was pretty surprised to learn that New Hampshire didn’t have a single abortion fund and I knew that that had to be a huge need,� she said.

Through her previous work at Equality Health Center, Pinto understood that there was a stark demand for aid in helping people fund the abortion process. 

“Everytime that money came up, usually at least once a day there was someone who wasn’t sure how they were gonna pay for their aborton,� she explained.

In 2019 she decided to start The Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire to help in-need people in the state afford abortions. She says she spent about two years planning and fundraising before launching because it was challenging to raise money without the legitimacy of being an established or well-known non-profit organization.

In May 2022 Justice Samuel Alito’s majority draft opinion leaked, in which it was revealed that the Supreme Court voted to strike down Roe v. Wade.

“I don’t think I was as shocked as most people because we have been anticipating this moment and we’ve known that with every new Supreme Court justice that has kind of been the reason that they were seated on the court, especially during the Trump era,� Pinto said.

In the days immediately after this New Hampshire Latino News Opinion+ conversation, the draft became a reality when the Supreme Court formally announced its landmark decision to overturn Roe.

13 states immediately outlawed or placed harsher restrictions on the eligibility to abortion due to trigger laws, which were already in place in the event that Roe was ever overturned. 

Experts predict that people living in states with abortion bans will travel to neighboring states, like New Hampshire, to seek services. To help accommodate the influx of travelers, Pinto says RFFNH is expanding their focus.

“We’re looking at how we can scale up our funding to help cover those patients,â€� she said. She also mentioned the possibility of collaborating with organizations in other states to split costs for traveling people. 

“We’re expecting to pay for about half the cost of people coming from out of state in addition to the full cost for all New Hampshire residents, which is what we’ve been doing currently,� she explained.

The direct cost of performing abortion procedures is not the only barrier. Pinto says that affording rides to and from appointments is also essential because people who get abortions are medicated and unable to drive themselves.

Pinto discussed her feelings about the backlash she faces as a reproductive justice advocate, but she says that knowing that 70 percent of the country supports abortion helps balance out the negativity. 

“Even if the other side is loud, I know that they are the minority,� she said.


The Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire:
Pinto’s Boston Globe Article:
Justice Alito’s Leaked Abortion Opinion:
Information on Which States have Banned Abortion:

Equality Health Center:
The National Network of Abortion Fund:
Abortion on Demand:


@reprofund.ed (highchoolers)


All health centers offer translation, now funding translation costs 

RILN Opinion+: Amelia Rose

Welcome to another episode of Rhode Island Latino News Opinion+, where we talk about major issues the Latinx and other underrepresented communities face in the community.

The importance of cultivating green space was highlighted during the pandemic as residents struggled to find safe and clean outdoor spaces. “ A lot of our work is focused on communities that have high immigrant populations already. All the work that we do we try to do in multiple languages,� explained Amelia on the demographics of the communities they serve. 

This week we spoke with Amelia Rose, Executive Director of Groundwork Rhode Island.

Groundwork is a network of local organizations that focuses on environmental stewardship and economic opportunity for underserved communities. Groundwork is one of the fortunate companies to not be significantly impacted by the pandemic due to the accessibility of landscape and compost services with minor supply chain issues.

Partnerships is the main avenue that Rose is taking with Groundwork in order to build relationships and provide services with as many communities as possible. Involved community members have the opportunity to become immigrant ambassadors to engage with the community and get more people involved. 

Low-income communities face a variety of challenges such as climate, air quality, substandard living conditions, polluted facilities, etc. “We call these communities environmental justice communities or front line communities that are closer to these hazards,� explains Rose. Groundwork gives young students the tools to be educated on important topics through educational programs. 

In conversations about DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) Groundwork strives to open up conversations involving new voices to improve the principles of leadership of the organization. Opening up positions of leadership that do not require a college degree is essential to opening doors for those that cannot afford to go to college. This promotes inclusivity for college students and non college students. 

People can get involved through the planting of trees in Providence, Central Falls, Johnston, Cumberland, Lincoln and other cities across the state. Other services such as compost, watering, and adding green space will allow residents to get involved. 


Main website:



MALN Opinion+: Vanessa Calderon-Rosado

Welcome to another episode of Massachusetts Latino News Opinion+, where we talk about major issues the Latinx and underrepresented communities face.

This week we spoke with Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas En Acción.

“Inquilinos Boricuas En Acción or IBA was founded in 1968 by a group of Puerto Rican activists that fought for their rights to stay in the neighborhood of the South End in Boston. They basically stopped the city bulldozers, and the displacement threats that they faced when the city was planning to do a whole process of urban renewal in the South End.

This group of Puerto Rican activists created Inquilinos Boricuas En Acción to become the community development organization that would redevelop and revitalize the neighborhood and create secure affordable housing.

Almost 55 years later IBA continues the legacy of their founders by creating, developing, and reserving affordable housing in the South End and across Boston.

IBA also offers an assortment of programs to support young people such as bi-lingual preschool programs, financial empowerment initiatives, youth development projects, and arts programs. This assortment of programs combined with their work to secure affordable housing makes IBA a driving force in modern community development. 

Coming up this Saturday July 16th, 2022 IBA’s Festival Betances returns to Plaza Betances here in Boston after a multi-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They have a full day planned of exciting activities for everyone. This year’s theme is ¡De Bomba a Reggaetón! They’ll be celebrating and enjoying an assortment of bands and artists. There will also be plenty of food, arts and crafts, a parade, and their annual greased pole climbing competition. Vanessa shared that the competition is one of the most exciting parts of the festival, “People gather around that greased pole. Its so exciting to see the power, the grit, and the determination of these teams to keep climbing the pole until someone finally grabs the flag on top of it. It’s truly very exciting.â€�

IBA hopes that anyone and everyone in the Boston community will come out this Saturday and join them in celebrating the rich history and culture they have fostered right here in the city’s South End.

For more information about IBA, and The Festival Betances be sure to watch this weeks full episode of Massachusetts Latino News Opinion+.

Resources: (IBA Main Website) (Festival Betances Info)

Facebook: @IBAboston

Twitter: @IBA_Boston

LinkedIn: @IBA – Inquilinos Boricuas en AcciónInstagram: @ibaboston

Rocha Selected as Center for Health Journalism 2022 National Fellow 

The USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism announced this month it had selected 26 journalists to participate in its 2022 National Fellowship to investigate and explore challenges impacting child, youth and family health and well-being in the United States. Annabel Rocha, Editor for Latino News Network – Midwest and Writer for Illinois Latino News (ILLN) is among them.

The competitive program includes a five-day training that provides insights into how health and child, youth and family well-being is shaped by community conditions, systemic racism and opportunity. Through reporting stipends and months of expert mentoring, the Center for Health Journalism supports Fellows as they produce investigative and explanatory projects on challenges impacting child, youth and family wellness. 

For her project, Rocha will be exploring Period Poverty. Period Poverty or Menstrual Poverty is defined as the lack of access to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, and/or waste management. This social problem primarily affects houseless people, low-income people, and Black and Brown communities.  Two-thirds of low-income women in the U.S.could not afford period products, according to a 209 survey of low-income women in a large U.S. city.

“I thank the CHJ and ILLN for supporting my vision on this project because I know discussions like this can make people uncomfortable,â€� said Rocha. “That’s exactly why this topic needs to be covered.â€�

“As the Center’s director, I’m proud to welcome this group of reporters to Los Angeles and look forward to partnering with them in the months to come as they produce powerful stories on health equity and systemic disparities, reporting that will have an impact in their communities,� said Michelle Levander, editor and founding director, Center for Health Journalism.

“In an era of pervasive misinformation, trusted reporters rooted in the communities they cover and laser-focused on telling stories about health inequities are more critical than ever,� said Monica Beltran, program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “We need a strong ecosystem of journalists who represent the communities they report on to uncover health disparities, explore why they exist and shed light on solutions,� she added.

The 2022 National Fellowship is generously funded by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The National Fellowship also receives support from The California Endowment and the Internet Brands/WebMD Impact Fund, an initiative of the Social Impact Fund.

A native Chicagoan, Rocha joined Illinois Latino News as its first writer/reporter when it launched last October. She was named Editor last month. Rocha has helped lead the Democracy SOS and Advancing Democracy, solutions journalism initiatives for LNN, thanks to grants by the Solutions Journalism Network and Hearken.

“Grants like the Center for Health Journalism, provides dedicated journalists like Annabel, and independent newsrooms like LNN, the resources necessary to produce authentic stories that resonate with communities often invisible in the coverage of mainstream media,� said Hugo Balta, Owner and Publisher of LNN.

“I am so happy to have this opportunity, not only for myself and my career, but for the stories that will be told through this reporting,� said Rocha of being included as a CHJ Fellow. “People of color are most directly impacted by period poverty but their voices are heard the least. The goal is to reclaim the narrative and uplift Latinx voices as we normalize menstruation and menstrual poverty together.�

Publisher’s Notes: This story is in part an aggregate from Center for Health Journalism announces 2022 National Fellows.

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Unemployment Rates Low but Education, Healthcare Still Facing Worker Shortage

The latest U.S. Bureau of Labor report for May 2022 shows New Hampshire’s unemployment rate was 2.1 percent, ranking fourth in the nation with the lowest unemployment rate. Yet, some industries are still struggling to staff their businesses.

Montessori Schoolhouse of Cheshire County, a preschool in Keene that has operated for 33 years, is experiencing a staffing shortage that is threatening their ability to care for their students.

School officials say they need two lead teachers, four assistant teachers, an administrative director, an office assistant and four board members. In a small school like Montessori these eight positions make a difference in the number of children they’re able to serve and the shortage has caused more families to be left on the waiting list for childcare.

“If we’re not able to retain and hire the staffing we need, we are faced with the decision to permanently close which is a devastating thought for everybody in our community,� Katie Kurowski, co-president of the board of directors, said in an email to the Sentinel Friday.

Because low pay was a common factor in people quitting their jobs, the average weekly wage is increasing. To compete, the school has raised tuition with hopes of using higher pay rates to attract employees. The 2022-2023 school year tuition increased by 6 percent.

The healthcare industry is also experiencing continued staffing shortages.

In December 2021 NHPR reported that New Hampshire’s largest healthcare system, Dartmouth-Hitchcock, advertised 1,129 job openings at once, including 100 physician vacancies.  

Leaders across the state have joined forces to create a plan to address this issue. Giving Care: A Strategic Plan to Expand and Support New Hampshire’s Health Care Workforce offers 107 short-term and long-term suggestions to solve the problem, including implementing wellness programs to improve employee retention. Endowment for Health and the Community Health Institute partnered to fund and lead the project.

“In this state, we address problems often in very siloed ways,� Kim Firth, Program Director at the Endowment for Health, told The New Hampshire Bulletin. “We want this to be action oriented. We don’t want this to be a plan that sits on a shelf. We actually need to work together to implement it.�

The plan’s suggestions are categorized into four sections– recruiting and retaining healthcare workers, rethinking policies that stymie workforce development, collecting and using data to drive decisions, and creating a public or private group to move the plan forward. 

The organizations say that many aspects of the plan can be utilized in any industry, not just healthcare, and with education and healthcare so crucial to the success of the state, it is important to decrease the shortages now.


Cover photo: Ernie Journeys for Unsplash

National Teacher Shortage Highlights Need for Bilingual Teachers and Dual Literacy in Illinois Classrooms

In the midst of a nationwide teacher shortage plaguing the country, studies show that the need for educators in Illinois is worse than ever. For English Learners (ELs) the stakes are especially high as these students deal with a language barrier in which their parents may not be able to assist with and a shortage of adults qualified to teach them.

“Because this is one of the fastest growing groups of children in the state, if Illinois is going to be successful, we need this group of children to be successful,� said Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro, Director of Education Policy and Research at Latino Policy Forum.

The Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools found that in 2021 there were 2,040 open positions in Illinois school districts alone. The need for bilingual teachers is especially highlighted as the number of ELs in Illinois grows and the demand for educators certified to teach them continues to not be met.

In March 2022 the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) announced a $4 million grant intended to aid current teachers in receiving the credentials required to teach bilingual classrooms in Illinois. The funding is allocated from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief federal pandemic money.

The ISBE press release states that in October 2021 there were 98 vacancies for bilingual classroom teachers throughout Illinois.

Certain credentials are required to teach English Learners. Many of these bilingual teachers work with an Educator License with Stipulations with a Transitional Bilingual Education endorsement (ELS-TBE), which is provisional. The ELS-TBE is valid for five years, but non-renewable. In order to continue teaching, teachers must receive a Professional Educator License (PEL).

The grant can be used by those ELS-TBE holding educators who would like to pursue the Professional Educator License, as well as by teachers who already earned a PEL but are seeking an English as a Second Language (ESL) or Bilingual endorsement. The intention is to fund the bilingual teacher pipeline by ensuring teachers can remain eligible for these positions after the five year period, and by encouraging fully licensed teachers to take on the additional language licensure. 

This grant is a huge win for the Latino Policy Forum, a statewide advocacy organization that encourages and fosters Latino voice and representation. Their education department has long been advocating to ISBE for this allocation of funds towards bilingual teachers.

“Everyone has known that the bilingual teacher shortage is one of the most severe of all the teacher shortages and so I think the administration was really open to ideas,� said Vonderlack-Navarro.

The 2019-2020 school year numbers reported by ISBE show that there were 261,454 EL students enrolled in Illinois, with 594 school districts implementing some form of Transitional Bilingual Education program (TBE). 72 percent of these students speak Spanish and 74 percent of them are Hispanic or Latino.

“It is my passion that we no longer view these kids through a deficit lens, but we see that language and culture are incredible assets to learning and given this research from the University of Chicago, when these kids are supported over the long-term with specialized teachers who know how to meet their needs, they will do well. They should be celebrated, instead of seen as a burden,� she said.

The way that these students are served can look differently depending on the type of program implemented in a school.

Vonderlack-Navarro feels that one of the most effective ways to cater to EL students is through the dual language model in which students receive core instruction in both English and Spanish. 

“I think it’s critical because research shows that English Learners’ services work if a teacher is skilled with knowledge on how to build the home language while also building English, children over the long term will be more successful,â€� she said. 

Although dual language makes up less than 14 percent of EL instructional design in the state, many educators vouch for the effectiveness of this method for their students as it builds biliteracy, rather than focusing solely on encouraging English skills. In the Elgin area U-46 District, only the dual language model is implemented across 32 of their schools.  

Griselda Pirtle, the Director of English Language Learners at School District U-46 said, “We choose the dual language model because research suggests that that is the best model that serves our students. Especially our current student population, where 90 percent of our English Language Learners are actually born here in the United States. So they’re coming up from birth in bilingual environments and so dual language programs allow the students to access all of the languages that they have.â€� 

“If we put them in English only environments or English only classrooms, it’s like we’re tying one hand behind their back. We’re not allowing them to access both of the languages that they have, and really that’s the beauty of dual language models, is that not only are you teaching both, but you’re also maintaining both languages. And again, that then requires a need for highly-qualified bilingual teachers,� she continued.

Only 28 percent of ELs in Illinois are enrolled in Chicago Public Schools, with 26 percent enrolled in Cook County, outside of CPS, and 33 percent in DuPage, Kane, Will and Lake counties. With this breakdown, Vonderlack-Navarro says that bilingual teachers are particularly needed in the suburbs.

“I think what you have in rural areas is there’s just a general teacher shortage and say you’re in a pocket, that maybe doesn’t look like a high number of ESLs, but there’s a decent concentration. There are certain areas that might have a meat packing plant or for various reasons, certain industries, they’ll have a population of ELs and no one will have the grounding to serve them at all in the district,â€� Vonderlack-Navarro said.

School districts across the country have gotten creative in their attempts to fill vacant bilingual teacher positions. In Connecticut, Hartford Public Schools started The Paso a Paso Puerto Rico Recruitment Program which relocates Spanish-speaking educators directly from Puerto Rico into full-time roles at their schools. In Georgia, Gwinnett County Public Schools offered a $4,000 bonus incentive to educators new to their district who either already held or could gain certification in Spanish, French, Korean, Vietnamese or Mandarin Chinese.

Pirtle says that the market for bilingual teachers is extremely competitive because the role is in such high demand.

“I think sometimes it’s not understood all the work that goes into recruiting and retaining dual language teachers. It is very difficult, again, because they can write their ticket,� she said.

In addition to recruiting bilingual teachers, districts have also found it challenging to retain them. Some often overlooked aspects of the role are the expectation to translate information to parents, or between parents and non-Spanish speaking administrators, as well as creating coursework that may not be readily available in all programs. It is additional work that they are not compensated for.

A small 2019 study by Cathy Amanti of Georgia State University found that bilingual teachers were not given the materials needed to teach in the other language, and would use personal time to translate the material provided in English, or create original material. Two of the six teachers included in the study left once the school year ended, with one leaving teaching altogether and the other leaving to a school that did not offer a dual language program.

“I wish I could tell teachers the grass isn’t always greener, because the reality is no matter what district you’re in, it is a tough job being a dual language teacher… It’s still up-and-coming, the field is still evolving and growing and you’re constantly learning new things, new strategies, etcetera,� Pirtle said. “So I think sometimes because that could become so much, dual teachers are like oh maybe in that district it’s better, or maybe in that district it’ll be easier or they have more this or they have more that and I’m just like no.�

She also says that it can be hard to keep an updated number of how many teachers are needed, or will be needed for the upcoming school year, because it is a moving target with aspects like retirement, maternity leave and resignation factoring into job vacancies.

While the battle towards employing and retaining more bilingual teachers in Illinois continues, at U-46 there is generally a positive outlook on the future of this issue.

“We’re very proud of the dual language program here at U-46 and it’s a great opportunity for our students and so we just need to find those teachers. There’s a shortage now, so on top of everything these types of things, programs and grants, can help us,� said Mireya Perez, Director of Human Resources at U-46.

Pirtle agrees, saying “I truly believe we are gonna see the day where hopefully, through having dual language programs, essentially we’re growing these bilingual students to potentially, hopefully, be teachers one day, or social workers that serve in our school.�

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