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Westfield High School Grad Helps Immigrant Families

Writer / Stephanie Duncan
Photography Provided

Nataly Montes is a recent Westfield High School graduate. She and her mother arrived in Indiana five years ago from Honduras, and like many immigrant students in the United States, she had to navigate a new school without a lot of help. After going through struggles navigating a new country with her mother, Montes wanted to help new immigrant families, so she started volunteering at the Immigrant Welcome Center.

When Montes and her mother arrived at her middle school five years ago to sign her up for classes, they quickly realized the school wasn’t prepared to help them, since they couldn’t find anyone who spoke English.

“I didn’t know how anything worked,” Montes says. “It was so hard at the beginning because I didn’t have anybody that spoke Spanish, but I think it helped me learn English.”

She had teachers that barred Spanish in their classrooms, to encourage her to learn English. While it seems harsh, Montes says it helped her.

“I have other friends that have been here longer that haven’t learned a lot of English, but they only talk to people that speak the same language,” Montes says. “That’s something that really helped me, to not just talk to people who speak the same language.”

After a couple of years of learning English and getting settled, Montes started volunteering at the Immigrant Welcome Center with the help of her uncle’s wife, who is a social worker there. The Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping immigrants and refugees in Indianapolis by connecting them to people, places and resources. Montes participates in the Natural Helper program, which provides direct help to immigrants and refugees, such as attending doctor appointments and lawyer meetings where translation services are needed.

“I want to help people because when I needed the help, other people helped me,” Montes says. “Not a lot of people helped me.”

Her mother is currently taking free English classes there as well.

One of the biggest hurdles Montes experienced in school was the language barrier.

“I wish school counselors would explain everything to students,” Montes says. “I didn’t know what a GPA was. For other people it’s not a big deal, but for those coming from a different country, it’s unfair.”

Montes is attending Ivy Tech and studying to be a registered nurse. She is the first person in her family to attend college.

“It’s a big opportunity to help other people,” she says. “I know how people struggle to even go to the hospital when they don’t speak the language. That’s why I really want to be a nurse.”

Montes still volunteers at the Immigrant Welcome Center as much as she can while attending college, and encourages people to volunteer if they are interested. To find out more about the Center and volunteer opportunities, visit immigrantwelcomecenter.org.

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