For past 33 years, Galveston native Carol Freeman, a mother of four, has had a hand in the upbringing of thousands of children who have attended, and are attending, the Johnny Mitchell Branch of the Boys & Girls Club in Galveston.
Freeman, 62, recently was recognized for her hours of volunteering by being named a 2017 Maytag Dependable Leader Award winner and receiving a $20,000 grant for her dedication to keeping youth on the path to achieve strong futures.
The award, which recognizes Boys & Girls Club officials who are committed to making a difference as role models, was one of 10 presented to volunteers and staff of the Boys & Girls Club across the nation.
“The Maytag Dependable Leader Award allows Maytag brand to give back to Boys & Girls Club staff and volunteers across the country who give tirelessly to their local communities,” said Rosa Keszler, community relations senior specialist at Whirlpool Corp. “It is our honor to recognize Carol Freeman for her exceptional efforts and support for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston.”
During her time as a volunteer, Freeman has positively influenced more than 17,000 young people in the Greater Houston area, said Kevin Hattery, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston.
Hattery nominated Freeman for the award, which was represented by Zenae Campbell, vice president of program services and operations for the clubs. Campbell was also host of the award presentation, which included more than 300 attendees congratulating Freeman for a job well done.
“When you talk about someone having a direct impact on changing the trajectory of young peoples’ lives, there’s nobody that has mastered this like Carol Freeman,” Campbell said. “She has poured into countless lives and continues to do so today.
“It was a no-brainer in us nominating her. She’s dependable and someone we can always count on. I think it’s even more special that she’s a volunteer. She doesn’t have to do this.”
The grant will be used to provide college scholarships for club members, as well as to ensure club enrollment for Greater Houston-Galveston youth whose families have been affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Since the late August storm, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston extended hours and locations to guarantee families in need had access. Freeman along with club staff committed many hours to provide support and stability.
“My years here at the club have been some of the most rewarding of my life,” Freeman said. “When I found out I was chosen, I was like, this can’t be right because I like to stay in the background, so why are they recognizing little old me? I thought to myself, I just do this because it’s easy for me to do.
“However, I do realize that I have a gift of nurturing children and so being around them is positive for me. I know that I make a difference in their lives, but the reward for me is that they bring so much to mine. This has been such an humbling experience.”
The Johnny Mitchell Branch serves as a safe and positive place for nearly 1,000 of the island’s most underserved youth, says Cheryl Chatman, club director of the island branch.
Statistics show that 92 percent of the organization’s members are economically disadvantage, and 74 percent are from single-parent homes, Chatman said.
“The Boys & Girls Club is here for each and every youth in our area,” Freeman said. “And because our doors are open, we change a whole lot of lives, just as Maytag does. They’re dependable.
“And just like their brand states, ‘it’s what’s inside that matters,’ that’s also true for me and the club because what’s inside these doors do matter. These children are our future. If we don’t give them the direction that they need, we’re going to be lost. We need them. We can’t ignore their needs. And as long as we have our doors open — I’ll be here.”
One of Freeman’s biggest contributions has been raising money for teens to pursue higher education.
From 1984 to 2016, she helped nearly 1,600 Johnny Mitchell Club members receive financial assistance, including grants and loans.
Her dedication has resulted in assisting members to receive more than $440,000 in scholarships and more than $3 million in education grants that gave young adults opportunities to attend universities such as Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Howard, Prairie View A&M, and Louisiana State.
Additionally, over the years, club alumni, such as Joe Ivory III, 31, have returned to visit Freeman and serve as motivational speakers for current members.
Ivory spoke at the presentation ceremony last week about the influence Freeman has had on his life.
“Ms. Freeman is definitely a phenomenal woman who has always been there for me,” Ivory said.
“She taught me how to care about people and not only instilled that character in me, but in countless other members as well. She took me under her wing when my father passed and made sure I got into college — and graduated.
“They couldn’t have given this award to anyone better. She’s a great role model and words can’t express how much she means to me and to the children of Galveston and Galveston County.”
Freeman also has raised more than $230,000 to support college tours and trips to Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s National Keystone Conference, the organization’s premier leadership initiative for teen members. She has attended 17 conferences so more than 460 members could participate in character development workshops aimed at helping them recognize their potential as productive citizens, Hattery said.
“For 33 years, Carol has been a tremendous mentor for members at our Johnny Mitchell Club in Galveston,” Hattery said. “She is someone club members can always rely on, and consistently encourages our young people that they are more than their setbacks and are capable of greatness.”
Marisol Martinez camped out on a chilly November evening on her 8-year-old son’s first overnight Cub Scout adventure.
This month is busier than usual for Martinez, who was camping with her Cub Scout, keeping up with her other two active children and cooking for her extended family’s large, traditional Thanksgiving dinner. She’s mashing potatoes and preparing a green noodle dish with poblano peppers. Her sister is making at least three casseroles. Her dad will cook the turkey outside on the grill. It’s his thing.
Martinez, who was born in Mexico, became a U.S. citizen in 2014. She had three good reasons: her children. Now, if she travels outside the United States, she doesn’t worry about some glitch in the system that might keep her away from home.
“You start thinking about your kids more than you,” Martinez, who lives in Galveston, said. “When you have to think about your kids, it’s important to make good choices.”
She’s living an American dream, contributing to the community and raising young Americans. But other immigrants don’t have the same resources and can’t offer the same opportunities to their children.
These are challenging and uncertain times for immigrants who don’t have citizenship, lawyers and activists said. A March 5 2018 deadline looms for some of the 113,000 young people living in Texas who were covered under the now rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and who are not sure what comes next.
More than 33,000 immigrants sought advice on that and other concerns in 2016 from Houston-based St. Frances Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance, part of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Some of those immigrants worry about government agencies having their information, program director and lawyer Zenobia Lai said.
About 2,000 young people in Galveston County are in limbo after President Donald Trump in September rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and they could be deported although they grew up in the United States, Lai said.
One in six Texas residents is an immigrant, and 15 percent of Texas residents are native-born U.S. citizens with at least one immigrant parent, according to a November American Immigration Council study.
In Texas, 2.36 million of the state’s 7 million children live in immigrant families, and 80 percent of them live in two-parent homes, an October Annie E. Casey Foundation report said.
The foundation wants state and federal policies that keep families together, help children in immigrant families thrive and create well-paying jobs for their parents.
While the Martinez family is thriving, many immigrant families stumble with a lack of opportunities, according to the foundation report.
And some don’t have the family connections or resources to get the proper and sometimes expensive paperwork to become legal residents or U.S. Citizens.
St. Frances Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance helped about 10,000 people in the Greater Houston area in 2016, Lai said.
“An additional 23,559 received information or legal consultation through our ‘charlas,’ outreach, presentation and workshops,” Lai said.
Charla means chat in Spanish, and the center holds three of them every month to explain immigration rights and to give individual legal consultation, Lai said.
Many immigrants in Galveston don’t always get a lawyer because of the money and they assume that they have to travel to Houston, grass roots groups said.
Ser y Hacer, a Galveston-based grass roots organization, tries to fill a void. It offers free English classes and citizenship classes to immigrants in Galveston, and it also helps with filling out paperwork to apply for residency, citizenship and other legal paperwork.
Ser y Hacer in Spanish means to be and to do, or being and doing. Magdalena Alvarado started Ser y Hacer in 2012 just one year after she became a U.S. citizen. She was well aware of the hurdles, she said.
“There’s a necessity here in Galveston,” Alvarado said. “Everyone says ‘I need to go to Houston.’”
Alvarado had to go to Houston to see lawyers, get general advice and attend a citizenship class to prepare for the 100-question exam.
To come up with an island-based solution, Alvarado networked with Galveston Independent School District officials and city leaders.
She also worked with the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service to set up classes to help immigrants become citizens.
“They are a liaison that works for us,” she said. “It is a huge collaboration.”
She met Mary Longoria at city hall when she first started the organization, and soon Longoria became her partner at Ser y Hacer.
Alvarado and Longoria work as unpaid volunteers who post fliers about classes, counsel immigrants and help them find scholarships and jobs.
“We love to do that,” Longoria said. “We love the people, the community, the families. To know the people is the best part.”
Yadira Araujo, who is from the Monterrey area in Mexico, has gone to Ser y Hacer to get help filing paperwork for her family. It costs $750 to file some forms.
“And the lawyers charge that, too,” Araujo said. At Ser y Hacer, she just has to pay whatever the filing fees are and she doesn’t have to double the cost with lawyer fees.
“They’ve helped me with my children,” Araujo said.
She has a 15-year-old daughter who was born on the island. She also has a 17-year-old son who she brought to Galveston when he was 6 months old.
Araujo and her husband came to Galveston in 2000 on a travel and business visa, but they didn’t go back to Mexico, she said. It’s a complicated situation. While her daughter is a U.S. citizen, her son is not.
He’s in that group of young people commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” a term based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act that would have provided protections for young immigrants. The DREAM Act — Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors — was a federal proposal that offered protections for immigrants brought to the United States as young children.
But it didn’t become a law.
While Congress never passed the DREAM Act, another program sought to offer similar protections. That was the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that former President Barack Obama’s administration implemented. The administrative program allowed young immigrants living in the country illegally who were brought here as children to remain in the United States. It did not convey legal status.
DACA granted nearly 800,000 young people two-year work permits and temporary protection from deportation and permission to legally work.
Of those 800,000, about 113,000 were in Texas. About 2 percent to 3 percent of the 113,000 are in Galveston County, Lai said. That would mean about 2,000 to 3,000 young people.
President Donald J. Trump’s administration announced Sept. 5 that it would end the program in March 2018. The Trump administration gave recipients 30 days to submit renewal applications if their permits would expire before the program ends.
Cesar Araujo, 17, is a senior at Ball High School who wants to study economics at Texas A&M University, possibly starting at the Galveston branch then transferring to the College Station campus. He did well in his advanced placement economics class.
“I like dealing with money,” he said. “I like how orderly it is.”
He has a girlfriend. They went out to see “Jigsaw” at a movie theater recently. He likes to play single-shooter video games such as “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.” He works part-time at Marshalls on Stewart Road in Galveston, where it can get busy with tourists on Sunday afternoons, he said.
He watches documentaries on history and science, which he thinks makes him seem weird to his friends, he said.
Cesar Araujo was that 6-month-old baby that came to Galveston and never left. He met the October deadline to renew his DACA application. It was approved, and he can stay in the country through 2019.
Something else about Cesar Araujo — he likes President Trump.
“It’s not what you expect,” he said, and grinned like a senior in high school.
He’s not worried about what happens to him after 2019 and is optimistic about his future.
“I also try to be a realist,” he said. “For me, I’ll accept reality. I love this country and even the laws that come with it.”
But if he should be deported to Mexico, he’ll be at a disadvantage. He doesn’t speak Spanish well, he said. And his mom agrees with that. He’s also not familiar with Mexican culture. All he knows is Galveston.
Cesar Araujo has gotten into heated debates about immigration policy at school with classmates yelling at him that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he said. He usually tells them that, yes, he knows quite a bit about immigration policy. And he notices all the misconceptions people who are not in his situation have from the idea that undocumented immigrants are all Mexicans to the notion that all immigrants are stupid or criminal.
And even though he could be deported in a couple of years if Congress doesn’t create legislation to fix the issue, he’s not certain that DACA was ever fair to other immigrants who couldn’t use the program.
“I’m just an honest man,” he said. “I look at things from both sides.”
“Most people agree our immigration system is broken,” Lai said. “We are tearing apart families.”
She points to a Migration Policy Institute study comparing the jobs that DACA recipients held to their cohorts. DACA recipients tend to work in office settings and hold professional jobs.
“We are talking about a significant number of important, contributing members of the economy,” Lai said. “However tenuous their connection is with our country, we need to do what can we do to help the ‘Dreamers.’ They grew up as our neighbors, they grew up as our friends and now they are our co-workers.”
The U.S. immigration system is dysfunctional and needs an overhaul, she said. Only a small number can get education waivers. Immigrants seeking a humanitarian status have to file within the first year they are here.
“It’s not a good time for immigrants,” Lai said.
Martinez’s immigration story starts with her grandfather who gained U.S. resident status in the 1970s. He worked in Galveston and extended the resident status to her father.
Her mother, who got homesick, went back to Mexico where Martinez was born and where she grew up. Martinez got a degree in computer science while she lived in Mexico, but she couldn’t find any jobs.
So she went to her other home, Galveston.
A few years later, she met her future husband, who is from El Salvador, when a mutual relative had a baby. He had moved to Galveston with his parents when he was 10 years old.
“I really admire my in-laws,” Martinez said. “My mother-in-law started selling jewelry from a catalog when she came here.”
Now, her in-laws own and operate Martinez Furniture Center on Broadway in Galveston. They opened the store in 1997.
“They never gave up,” she said.
Martinez encourages other immigrants to work hard like her in-laws and motivate their children to get an education. She also recommends taking the path to citizenship.
“Make it happen,” she said. “You can have dreams, but it’s better to make it happen.”