Rebeca Gamez, who was born in Mexico and describes herself as "a first generation Mexican immigrant in the United States," compiled a very good record at Princeton, particularly notable for what she managed to accomplish outside the classroom. As two former Fellows put it, she had "a great track record of community engagement" and " a proven history of implementing projects with social conscience." One of the projects she worked on, for instance, was designed to improve the life of food service and custodial workers at Princeton clubs.
Faculty and the administration rated Rebeca highly – offering such comments as "writes well and is very articulate," a "charming but modest person of real intelligence and compassion," a "self-starter," and a "leader who works extremely well with others."
Rebeca is passionate about U.S. immigration policies, especially those that target undocumented Latino day laborers. In pursuing her Fellowship, Rebeca got in touch with an organization in Jackson Heights, NY called New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), a non-profit that uses advocacy and public education to collaborate with, serve and empower new immigrant communities of various cultures. Here, in Rebeca's own words, is what she has been doing during the past year.
"Through the Fellowship, I have been able to successfully organize and implement an ESL and workers' rights program for Latino day laborers in Jackson Heights, New York. There are now over 50 ESL students and over 100 day laborers participating in the workers' rights program.
Class of 2005
"Jackson Heights, Queens, is an area heavily populated with Latino day laborers. An early morning walk, bus drive, or other commute usually provides a glimpse of one or two curb-side, open air markets filled with groups of men standing and waiting for prospective employers to arrive and select them for a day's labor. These day laborers often provide employers with valuable employees, willing to work long hours in often dangerous and dirty conditions. The workers are routinely abused and have little chance of gaining employment in the formal job market.
"While a lack of legal status may prevent immigrant workers form responding to workplace abuse and transition to the formal job market, poor English-speaking skills also play a significant role. Unfortunately, many immigrant workers are unable to learn English because they can't afford to and because the few free English classes offered in Jackson Heights fill up quickly. My ReachOut '56 project attempts to address these obstacles.
"The ESL and Workers' Rights Program provides free English classes, workers' rights workshops, and assistance in filing back wage claims against abusive employers. The ESL component draws on the participatory approach to ESL instruction. . . . My lesson plans are structured around learners' life experiences and pressing social issues. . . . At the end of my Fellowship, I hope to leave NICE with a blueprint for the program and the financial means to continue the program."
Here is what Rebeca's supervisor has to say about our Fellow: "Rebeca Gamez has had an extraordinarily positive impact on literally every aspect of the organization. Rebeca has professionalized our ESL program by implementing smaller class sizes, creating student teacher roles and developing and implementing a special teaching curriculum that is tailored to our mostly day laborer student population and designed to encourage independence and leadership. Rebeca has strengthened our Workers Rights initiative by providing hands-on back-wage claims assistance and creating bilingual and user-friendly templates to enable and facilitate the ability of workers to protect and enforce their labor rights.
"Rebeca has gone far beyond her official duties by taking the initiative to assist NICE with fundraising, board, staff and membership development, and the building of strategic relationships with community leaders, service providers and other community-based organizations. In sum, NICE may be a young organization with a small budget, but it has an unsurpassed wealth of resources in its staff, none more than Rebeca Gamez."
Rebeca told us that her experience as a ReachOut '56 Fellow has been "invaluable," expanding upon the subject in the following terms: "There is something very exciting about conceptualizing, organizing, and shaping a project that is not only all your own but that, more importantly, intends to address an important social issue and community need. It is even more exciting when your project comes to fruition and you begin to see tangible and concrete results. It is an experience that few people, let alone recent college graduates, may ever have.
"In addition to the thrill of organizing my own project, the Fellowship has also afforded me the opportunity to discover myself and my future career options. Through interacting with fellow colleagues and other individuals in the field, I have solidified my decision to attend law school in the near future. The ReachOut '56 Fellowship gives each Fellow the needed resources to take a year and reflect on how we can utilize our undergraduate experience at Princeton to make meaningful contributions in our respective fields of interest or communities."
Rebecca told us recently: “Since obtaining the ReachOut '56 Fellowship I have embarked on various professional journeys that have led me to the field of education. After finishing the Fellowship, I worked for the Neighborhood Development Advocacy Project (NEDAP), a resource and advocacy center for community groups in New York City. Its mission is to promote community economic justice and to eliminate discriminatory economic practices that harm communities and perpetuate inequality and poverty. As the Community Education Coordinator, I oversaw NEDAP's community financial education and fair lending program. I trained thousands of New York City prospective homeowners on predatory mortgage lending practices. After NEDAP, I decided to learn more about the field of education - both formal and informal - and went off to Cambridge, Massachussets to the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), where I received my Masters in Human Development and Psychology. My work with cognitive psychologist and educational theorist, Eleanor Duckworth, and other professors at HGSE, led me to realize that I wanted to be in the classroom and I applied to the Princeton University Teacher Preparation Program. I just finished my student teaching experience and look forward to teaching this fall at Foundation Academy Charter School in Trenton, New Jersey.”