“I think Canal Alliance is one of the first organizations I’ve observed to be really committed to the people in their community,” shares Christina Pathoumthong, a fourth year History and Political Science major from Dominican University and Canal Alliance volunteer. “Canal Alliance is defined by the people within and around their diverse and tight-knit community. It’s an incredible organization.”
Christina got involved with Canal Alliance through the Dominican University Service Learning Program. In her college coursework, she has been inspired by readings from Saint Oscar Romero, an archbishop of El Salvador who spoke out against social injustice, and the value of solidarity from her Liberation Theology classes. From her family, she was instilled with the value of education.
Solidarity and education inform Christina’s volunteer work, which began with students in the UP! Program and then transitioned to students in the Workforce Development Program. “There was so much community created within Canal Alliance and in the after school UP! Program,” Christina remembers. In UP!, “everyone knows everyone’s name. Even if students choose to sit alone and be reserved, they are not abandoned. Every student has the reassurance that someone will be there to help when needed or even just be a friendly face to welcome them. Canal Alliance connects their community to assure no one is left behind and in doing so, they promote education and a betterment of life through education.”
Three months into her volunteer commitment with UP!, shelter-in-place began in March 2020. “With the pandemic, we didn’t have that in-person community experience with remote studies. Many people had challenges with access to the internet, quiet spaces to study, tech devices—some people only had phones. This year has come with many challenges.”
When Canal Alliance’s programs pivoted to offer remote services, Christina began volunteering for the Workforce Development Program’s Construction Course. Through ice breakers, games, and casual conversation, Christina helped students speak with greater fluency and ease, preparing them for higher skilled roles in the workplace and for overseeing their own business. “Many people learning English know how to talk within their work fields such as construction, but don’t have practice for casual conversation,” Christina shared. “We’d practice interview questions, like ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’ so students would get used to the back-and-forth interview conversation style.”
One of the strengths Christina sees in Canal Alliance is the “importance of building community and creating an empowering space to support education. This is so vital to making the community better. I really think education is key to combating racial wealth inequality. All Canal students are so ambitious and so eager to learn. If you give a student the tools, they will learn and succeed.”