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Meet our Volunteer: Barbara Smilie

November 7, 2019

“Before our youngest child left for college, I knew I needed to stay involved in the lives of children. After all, I had been an active volunteer at our two boys’ elementary, middle and high schools in San Rafael public schools. I loved being around the kids while helping to manage or fundraise for the schools or various school groups.

Experience Corps was the perfect fit. It’s an organization that brings together senior citizens with school children. For five years, from 2009 to 2014, I volunteered in classrooms at San Pedro School. The children were so energetic and willing to learn that it made the experience great fun.

What was concerning is having a little girl tell me that she was so hungry; hearing the principal complain that there was no public bus service to the school, so a mother had to walk from the Canal pushing a baby in a stroller to pickup her sick child, and then walk back.

While I was learning more about the sometimes difficult lives of my fellow San Rafael residents; my youngest son went off to college and fell in love with a beautiful (in every way) Latina girl. She was smart and energetic. My husband and I loved her immediately. We discovered that she was brought to the United States as an undocumented two-year old.

Thanks to her determination, there she was, thriving at college. I was in awe of the fact that she was able to overcome many obstacles to college by working hard in high school.

That’s when I decided that I wanted to help high schoolers in the Canal get to college. I contacted Canal Alliance, and began volunteering for the UP! Program. UP! stands for University Prep!, just what many of our high schoolers need. The program gives middle and high school students a place to do homework, get tutoring with difficult subjects, learn how to apply to college and find scholarships.

It does so much more, and it’s a great program. So for the next five years, from 2014 to 2019, I enjoyed helping these students. I knew with the support of UP!, success at college and beyond was possible for many of the kids.

Back to my son and his girlfriend – happy ending! They both graduated from college in 2013 and immediately got great jobs. In 2016, unsure of the political environment, they were married. Our daughter-inlaw had been working under DACA since 2012, but the future of the program was unclear.

Three days after they were married in 2016, we hired an immigration attorney. The attorney did an incredible job counseling and assisting with the unbelievably difficult process of getting our daughter-in law her green card. I’m happy to say that, after nearly three years, she recently became a permanent resident of the United States!

Canal Alliance offers so many services to the community, but I definitely, at this point, see how important the legal services are. I don’t know how anyone could have made it through the legal process that our family did without an attorney. I continue to help at Canal Alliance in the Development office. It is satisfying to know that, despite many immigrants’ futures being at stake, Canal Alliance is helping to make their dreams come true.”

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