On Wednesday October 19th, 2022, WMU students and alumni, as well as Kalamazoo community members, gathered to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with local K-5 students at Woods Lake Elementary School. There were about 70 volunteers signed up for this UNIDOS volunteering event. WMU students representing diverse registered student organizations worked one-on-one with students on learning projects that celebrate Latinx culture through reading, writing, and the arts.
K-5 students had the opportunity to meet WMU students to learn about the Latinx culture, while also learning what Western Michigan University is all about. Kindergarten and First grade students colored maps of Latin America countries while reading about them as well. Second and third grade students made Mexican Mirrors. While Fourth and Fifth grade students made Papel Picados.
There were also a variety of other activities including word searches, crossword puzzles, and other word games associated with Hispanic Heritage Month. Some Spanish speaking volunteers mentioned talking to Spanish speaking students and them being appreciative that someone was speaking a language they usually only hear at home.
Administrative Assistant for Institutional Equity, Maria Mata coordinated the UNIDOS event alongside co-coordinators Dr. Mark Orbe and Natalie Jones Orbe. Mata said, “We saw the need of an event that celebrates Latinx culture and found a way to make it happen,” Mata continues, “a goal of ours was to tie things back to our theme UNIDOS: Inclusivity for a Stronger Community, unity was bringing these volunteers into the community of this elementary school for this event.”
According to Mata, one of the highlights of this event was “The diversity of the volunteers and students. The students get to see someone that looks like them in college at their school doing projects with them.”
Mata expressed her gratitude towards the community, “As a Kalamazoo Central grad, giving back to KPS (Kalamazoo Public Schools) is always a joy and being a part of this event was amazing.”
Senior, Nancy Muñoz volunteered at Woods Lake Elementary. She seen first-hand what it was like for kids to speak their native language. “There were other students who would speak to me in Spanish after they found out I spoke Spanish,” said Muñoz.
When Muñoz was asked about the importance of this event, she commented, “For these children to be able to see us college students out in the community, it empowers them to dream big because they know one day they can be where we are if they work hard,” Muñoz continued, “Representation is super important for kids of diverse backgrounds because for some it is the first experience they will have with that culture.” She also expressed her enjoyment volunteering with UNIDOS.
According to Mata, one of the highlights of this event was “The diversity of the volunteers and students.The students get to see someone that looks like them in college at their school doing projects with them.”
Woods Lake Elementary students and staff were very excited and welcoming to all volunteers. Overall, it was a great way for children from diverse backgrounds to learn more about their heritage, while building a connection with WMU students who could relate with them.