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Stories from the Front Lines

April 22, 2020

Karla Hernandez-Navarro

Karla Hernandez-Navarro, Canal Alliance ESL Coordinator, shares a client story from an ESL student and her own family’s experience during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. 

Karla Hernandez-Navarro

On March 16, the day that the Shelter in Place order was issued in Marin, my dad arrived home early from work and said his work had laid him off due to COVID-19. We all felt our stomach curl into a knot where it was hard to speak facing this new reality. 

That same day, the Canal Alliance education team had a meeting where we were asked to call each of the ESL students we serve. As the ESL Coordinator, I was responsible for calling all the lower-level English students. As I made the calls, I would hear the same depressing reality that my family and I faced. Single moms, working fathers, grandparents were all being laid off and had the same three main concerns that my family feared: not having enough food for their children and family, not having enough money to pay for rent, and not having access to health care.  

As we called students in the first five days of shelter in place, we learned that 51% of ESL students had already been laid off, and only 27% of ESL students have emergency healthcare insurance. While this first week was extremely challenging for everyone, we finally received a breeze of hope when donors started making money available to provide direct cash assistance to clients through our agency’s Client Support Fund. 

My family was one of the community members who benefitted from this financial assistance from Canal Alliance. When we received our check, it was as if a weight was lifted off our shoulders. My dad is the sole provider for our family, while my mom cares for my new baby sister. And all of this is happening as I am trying to finish and pay my last semester tuition at Dominican University of California. There are no words to express the gratitude that each of the families expressed when we completed their application for financial assistance – including mine. 

Q: Is there an ESL student story that made an impact on you while making the calls? 

There was one ESL student in particular whose situation has stayed with me. She is the mother of a child in elementary school in the Canal neighborhood. She and her husband were laid off the same day my dad was laid off.  

The overwhelming financial pressures caused her to have a migraine flare up. When I called her, she was unable to speak, couldn’t stop crying and saying how painful everything was. I referred her to our behavioral health specialist. 

A couple of days after, she called me back letting me know that she had paid her rent with the financial assistance check. She was practicing some mindfulness and breathing exercises she had developed with our behavioral health counselor. She also had an appointment to complete her unemployment application with the support of one of our case managers, Lupita Magaña. She couldn’t stop thanking me, and I couldn’t stop thanking her because it’s our community that gives purpose to our work.  

I feel honored to be able to work in an agency that, in such difficult times, can offer a helping hand. It’s incredible how all the programs are interconnected to ensure that our community receives every resource they need to thrive. Yet, we could not offer these services to our community members without the support of our donors and grant funders.  

We are all giving our share so that during this crisis, our most vulnerable and marginalized feel protected and supported by their community.  

Together, we will all survive this pandemic. 

Learn more about our Crisis Response & Impact


While we hear many devastating individual stories, we are inspired by the resilience of our clients. We are also heartened by the generosity of our volunteers and donors who support our emergency response efforts.

Read more posts in: Stories from the Front Lines

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