Meet a PORCH Volunteer: Blanca Schusterman
More than 10 years ago, Blanca Schusterman had just moved to Chapel Hill from northern Virginia when she met PORCH co-founder Susan Romaine while getting ready to vote at the Seymour Senior Center.
“We just talked, and she found out we were new to the area,” Blanca says. “She told me about PORCH and asked if I was interested in volunteering… I became a Neighborhood Coordinator shortly after that.”
Besides serving as the Neighborhood Coordinator for Creekwood in Chapel Hill, Blanca started helping out during food-sorting events. Eventually, as a native Spanish speaker, she became a volunteer Spanish translator and interpreter. She interacts directly with new PORCH program participants to get them oriented over the phone. She also makes reminder calls and is the primary Spanish contact when participants have questions. Plus, she translates PORCH’s written materials.
In many ways, Blanca’s work with PORCH reminds her of the community members who helped her parents when they first came to America in 1961. Natives of Columbia, they first arrived in Iowa before relocating to New Jersey. Blanca’s mother delivered her a mere three days after the family arrived in the United States.
Although Blanca’s parents were educated and could easily read English – her father was a doctor – conversing in the new language was far more challenging. Fortunately, local families devoted themselves to helping them get acclimated to their new community. “My parents were helped tremendously by strangers,” Blanca says. “It was still difficult for my parents, but it made it so much easier.”
“The families that I have met are all hardworking,” she says. “They’ve just encountered obstacles. … The biggest obstacle is language. As a result, many families struggle to complete administrative tasks such as filling out forms. They also lack resources, such as reliable Internet access. Everyone needs a helping hand every once in a while.”
“I am grateful for the opportunity to help the families,” Blanca says. “And recognize that the smallest gesture can make the biggest difference. It is huge for a new family to have someone they can speak to in their native language, to answer their questions.”
Blanca says it’s admirable that PORCH works to eliminate language as an obstacle, pointing out that the organization also has volunteers who communicate with native Arabic, Swahili, Burmese, and Karen speakers. “It’s really incredible how much PORCH really extends themselves to make these families feel as welcome as possible,” she says. “All the families are treated with dignity and respect. That shines through by the amount of care volunteers offer these families. It’s all about: ‘How can we serve you?’”