Written by Chloe Woggon
This month I had the pleasure of interviewing a very inspiring and motivated woman in our community. Dressed in gray pants and jacket with a white blouse on, she came in smiling and carrying a framed newspaper article from an interview conducted in 2005. She pointed to a picture of her and husband at a picnic together, and one of them in front of their house.
Francia Szymczak came to the US from Colombia in July 2000. Initially she was suffering from some culture shock. She missed the food from her home country and her family, but most of all, communication was difficult here. She did not speak English well, and the lack of communication was hard for her.
Her husband helped her enroll in English as a Second Language classes. Soon, she decided she wanted to be involved in the community. She remembered times in Colombia when she helped her community by taking food and clothes to people sleeping under the bridges.
Francia became a TA for the South Bend School Corporation and eventually the Robinson Community Center helped her apply for citizenship, which she gained in 2005. After achieving these steps, she still thought she could be more involved in the community. In 2011, she was invited to MUSA.
MUSA stands for Mujeres Saliendo Adelante, and is translated as Women Getting Ahead. It is a community organization helping Latino women in the area. The organization asked Francia if she would be the President, and initially she said no because she lacked confidence due to her language skills. But soon, MUSA brought Bridges Out of Poverty and she decided to take the Getting Ahead classes.
“These classes helped me say yes to the President position,” Francia said, “They gave me the confidence that I could be a leader, and also a toolbox to help me along the way.” Though her goal was to help others in the community, she needed support to help her take the steps she wanted to take. Francia has now been the President of MUSA since 2012. She told me that she applies the lessons from the Getting Ahead classes to help others in similar positions, and is now able to help others find community resources.
“I even became a part of the Bridges board for a short time, and this also helped me gain organizational and leadership skills,” said Francia. Later, she became a co-facilitator for one of the classes given at the YWCA.
Francia’s goals now are to continue to make MUSA better and continue to grow and help others. She doesn’t want to only help Latinos now, but also others in the community. “One of the key things the Bridges classes taught me was that you are never too old to study, grow, and achieve your dreams,” said Francia. “I want to keep taking English classes, because I want to speak better, but I also want to be able to write and make very minimal grammar mistakes. I am grateful for my husband because he has always encouraged me and is like a mentor for me,” said Francia with a smile.
If Francia had one piece of advice for others, it would be to never forget the small things. “Small things are important,” she said, “It is nice to dream big, but often we want to start big, but we must start with the small things, the small things are important.” She believes that everything is valuable and we must all value what we do as individuals.