Meet Coral Zayas: Immigrant Leadership Institute Graduate Gives Back
Coral moved to Philadelphia in 2018, after being accepted to a doctoral program at Temple University. It was tough leaving her life and her close-knit family in Puerto Rico, but she knew this was the best step for her career.
In the years since moving to Philly, she has often questioned if the upward mobility in her career has been worth the feelings of isolation she has endured.
Language barriers can create isolation on their own, however, Coral had a few very negative experiences upon arriving in Philadelphia that made her fearful of using Spanish and diminished her confidence in her English speaking skills.
While she had been feeling isolated since her arrival, it wasn’t until the pandemic hit and Coral was scrolling on Facebook that she learned of The Welcoming Center’s Immigrant Leadership Institute, a program designed to prepare foreign-born residents with the skills, knowledge, and tools necessary to engage in the civic life of our city and region. Even though Coral is from Puerto Rico, she faced many of the same barriers immigrants face and was accepted into the program.
As she did her research and learned more about the program, Coral recalled her experience with grassroots organizing in Puerto Rico and realized how much she had been missing that part of her life. Despite being scared to join the informational session and program, Coral did it.
“Listening to others’ stories and hearing the reasons they were there, I realized just in the info session that I wasn’t alone. Even though we have different kinds and levels of struggles, there are some points that overlap, and those points are the ones we have to work at and create a chain of solidarity. The institute has provided us the opportunity to learn we are not alone here and a tool kit to design our own action projects. It’s so engaging because we’re being empowered, healing ourselves in the process, and getting to help others,” Coral says.
During her time in the ILI program, Coral and her Coral and her two Ecuadorian teammates, Vanessa Cuenca and María José Guzmá, worked together to develop their action project. In the development stage, they interviewed participants and quickly noticed that there were several concerns about feeling isolated, something that the three of them had personally experienced. It was at that moment they knew they wanted to focus on wellness, particularly emotional wellness.
From there they created a 3-part workshop named, Get It Off Your Chest. The first part of the workshop was dance therapy. The next was a creative writing workshop. And the last part was a thought record workshop. Through these three workshops, they addressed physical health in a fun and energizing way, provided the opportunity for participants to create their own narrative, and offered an exercise to help regulate a person’s thoughts and feelings. The goal of Get It Off Your Chest was to provide participants with an accessible tool kit to manage their emotional wellness, and the team did exactly that for both participants and themselves.
Coral describes how ILI made her feel: “The way that I feel about myself right now, it feels healthier than before I completed the ILI program. Everyone who is feeling similar struggles should know about this space and know the Welcoming Center is there as a resource.”
She added, “The Welcoming Center has become a safe space, especially during the pandemic. It feels right to find a place that is specially designed to empower us. They have provided me support, understanding, care, and have led me to amazing people.”
The community and safe space described above is what we aim to provide at The Welcoming Center. We hope you can come out and experience our community at Solas 2021 on March 3rd.
This year’s event will be held virtually on Zoom from 4:30 to 6 p.m. and we are inviting everyone to join us. While tickets remain free, donations are encouraged and support participants like Coral through programs like the one you learned about above! All donations will be matched by a generous board member.
Register for the event by visiting our Solas 2021 page.