The construction of a library to complement a cultural and educational community center for special needs families in a rural area of Mexico is the driving force behind bilingual special education graduate student Susan Baker.
Last year, Baker began a Change for Change student chapter at the University of Arizona to raise funds to help acquire land, finalize the community center construction, fund scholarships and provide services to families in Cajones, Guanajuato at Resplandor International.
Resplandor International is an Arizona non-profit and serves as a real-life laboratory where students from the UA and other universities can apply their academic specialty to help those in need while gaining a greater understanding and capacity to work with Mexican families, children and communities.
UA College of Education Disability and Psychoeducational Studies faculty member Todd Fletcher, who for the last 15 years has organized the UA's Summer in Mexico/Verano en Mexico program, said the program has evolved to meet the needs of both the students and the community in Mexico. The summer program serves 15 to 20 students annually from throughout the U.S.
Fletcher envisioned Resplandor International as a way to invest in the Cajones community which opens its homes to American students and helps to provide a cross cultural educational experience for them.
Baker, a first generation college graduate, has spent three summers in Cajones. She and the other chapter members now champion the cause by putting together an annual charity dinner to raise money to maintain the center's programs and to raise funds for scholarships for students interested in enrolling in the summer program.
Programs provided at Resplandor include literacy, fine arts, technology training, equine therapy and health education training. The center serves approximately 300 families in Cajones.
The goal now is to raise money to build a library at the center and she and other members of the UA Change for Change chapter have organized a Golf for Change Charity Golf Tournament to be held Sat., April 17, at Randolph Golf Course in Tucson.
Change for Change has given Baker and the other 25 members of the chapter an opportunity to use best practices in fundraising to affect change.
"The program has helped families in rural areas gain greater understanding of their children with special needs and it has provided me with insights into teaching that I would not have gained in a traditional university setting," Baker said.
Jacquie McKenzie, another UA graduate student, currently directs activities at Resplandor year-round and keeps the chapter and the alumni of the Summer in Mexico/Verano en Mexico program aware of the center's needs and progress.
The UA chapter looks to collect $30,000 to build the proposed library while also continuing its year-long fundraising efforts to raise the $2,300 per month needed to sustain the program and provide services at Resplandor.
In addition the University of Guanajuato and the Escuela Normal de Guanajuato (the teachers' college) collaborate with the UA to train Mexican university students who perform service learning projects at Resplandor.
The Desarrollo Integral de la Familia or DIF, the department of social and family development, along with the Secretaría de Educación Pública or SEP, the department of public education in Mexico, also work to connect families in need of additional or specialized services.
In addition, scholars like Sylvia Schmelkes from La Universidad Iberoamericana, Silvia Romero from La Universidad de San Luis Potosi and Orlando Terre Camacho with Associación Mundial de Educación Especial, or the World Association for Special Education, contribute time and expertise with the center.
Resplandor also hosts fundraising events in Mexico to gain community support and awareness.