Our day Tuesday began much before dawn. In our familia, we had colleagues who felt and saw the storm first-hand. And just like the familia we are, texts, phone calls, and connections began as tornado alarms sounded in the city.
As thousands woke up to see destruction, we resumed a new order, checking on Casa Azafrán where we host about 200 people, including 90 pre-k students, dividing and conquering, and making sure our help line 615-269-6900 was up and ready to go. Just like we did during the 2010 Flood, Conexión Américas stepped up to serve as the call center for Spanish-speaking Middle Tennesseans needing assistance to navigate Metro resources, and obtain information and referrals.
By 8:00 am we were at the Nashville Office of Emergency Management at the press conference with Mayor John Cooper, Governor Bill Lee, MNPD Chief Steve Anderson, and Nashville OEM/NFD Director Chief William Swann as they gave an update on the damage the storm had caused and the work Metro and state agencies were conducting to account for residents in hard hit areas across Middle Tennessee. We were there to lend our solidarity, share our resources, and ensure families know we are here to support.
As the morning continued, our staff got to work. Our Education Programs team contacted schools with high concentrations of immigrant families, reached out to the MNPS Office of English Learners, and touched base with the parent facilitators in our Parents as Partners family engagement program.
Other staff members met with Latinx faith leaders, conducting business as usual, with a special request to share our work. We collaborated directly with the Mayor’s Office to troubleshoot shelter requests and to ensure faith communities would be ready to host affected families in real-time.
Members of our leadership team worked with Metro Councilwoman At-Large Zulfat Suara to coordinate meal prepping, and to secure Conexión Américas’ Mesa Komal culinary incubator space for chef and restaurant owner Yassin Terou and a team of volunteers including State Representative Gloria Johnson, American Muslim Advisory Council, Gideon’s Army, Murfreesboro Muslim Youth, and our staff and program participants who washed dishes alongside Yassin after 300 meals were prepared. Terou’s restaurant in Knoxville, Yassin’s Falafel, was named the Nicest Place in Americas by ABC’s Good Morning America. Thursday, Good Morning America in New York broadcast live from our Mesa Komal kitchen as Yassin and volunteers prepared breakfast for an additional 150 people.
Wednesday, Elizabeth Almaraz, our Information and Referral Liaison, and a member of the Mayor’s New Americans Advisory Council, triaged our phone line and visited families directly impacted by the tornado in Hermitage and Wilson County. Additionally, six of our staff members served as bilingual volunteer interpreters with the Red Cross of Tennessee who we have also been helping to spread the word about the need for qualified Spanish language interpreters to assist families in the coming days as they deal with medical and mental health issues, and the long process of recovering from the physical damage caused by the tornado.
Throughout it all, we have been moving quickly on communications. We have translated city-wide information into Spanish, disseminated information on our wide-reaching social media channels and Spanish-language newsletter. Our main objective has been to assure immigrant families that emergency shelters would not ask to see identification, a major obstacle for immigrant families in making the choice to get help. On Tuesday, as it became clear access to many election day polling sites would be difficult for voters, we also presented polling location changes and options to the community in Spanish.
Conexión Américas’ work has not been limited to Nashville. Since the storm traveled east across several counties, Conexión Américas’ Migrant Education Program team based across Middle Tennessee worked to account for students and families enrolled in our program in Wilson and Putnam Counties. Staff are going door to door in Wilson County.
Today, we opened our doors to accept donations. Within hours, we had a room full of non-perishable food, blankets, portable cellphone charger, batteries, water, trash bags, feminine products, flashlights, and gloves. Special thanks to our Board President Terry Maroney, Vice President Rob Jack, Treasurer Alex Spredemann, Secretary Tina Garcia, and Member Walker Matthews; several community members; and Second Harvest of Middle Tennessee who made two trips to Casa Azafrán. Our staff quickly divided up the donated supplies and packed 16 large boxes.
To deliver the boxes, we followed up with families we met Wednesday night, having noted their needs. Despite the sadness from the tragic losses, families are hopeful and determined to rebuild and resume their normal lives. Some reported their power had returned, but still needed food. One young girl even cried when she received her Trolls blanket. In total, we delivered nine boxes to families in Hermitage, and seven boxes to families in Lebanon. Staff also delivered food to MNPS teachers in the H.E.R.O. program, who were out accounting for students experiencing homelessness.
As we continue to visit families in affected areas, we are learning of their long-term needs and obstacles they will face. Many families have reported unresponsive landlords, or landlords failing to repair homes to make them liveable again.
Conexión Américas will continue to partner with city and state agencies, and other organizations to ensure immigrant families receive the assistance they need.
Amidst the chaos, Conexión Américas is operating as usual. On Wednesday night, English language learners came to Casa Azafrán for their English classes, and tonight, aspiring entrepreneurs will attend our Negocio Próspero course.
Nuestra casa, es su casa, la casa de todos.
This work is only possible because of supporters that make it possible for us to have a team in place ready to respond. Donate here.