Hispanic Heritage Month Staff Spotlight: Nathalie Paez
Continuing with our celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, this week we spoke with Nathalie Paez, an Enrollment Coordinator here at BBBSMB and member of our Spanish Speaking team. Nathalie shares how she interacts with the families she serves, the importance of our Spanish Speaking team, and utilizing her native language to make a difference in the community. She also shares what it’s like connecting BBBSMB and many of the Hispanic families we serve, some of the challenges they’re currently facing, and how we can serve them better as an agency. Enjoy!
What is your nationality?
My family and I are from Colombia. I was born there and we moved to New York, when I was 3-years-old. The rest of my family—which is almost everyone outside of my immediate family—lives in Bogota, Colombia and I try to visit them as often as I can, but I grew up speaking only in Spanish with my parents, dancing salsa, and having large family friend get-togethers that mixed both American and Colombian culture.
On a daily basis how do you interact with the families you serve?
Since I’m in Enrollment, I’m constantly going to the families’ homes to interview them and their children that want to be a part of our program as “Littles”. We work as a team to enroll the kids and then we match them up, so I contact the families over the phone with the good news that we’ve found them a Big after they’ve been patiently waiting. We do what’s called a Match Meeting, which is an in person introduction to their Big in their home and it’s very exciting for everyone.
What does it mean to work for BBBSMB?
For me, working for BBBSMB means that I’m providing a service to families who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to have this resource for their child. It’s meaningful to me and everyday I’m reminded of the importance of our work because we’re improving the lives of not only our Littles but also our Bigs who become involved as volunteers and become part of a family.
How important is it for you to be able to speak Spanish when communicating with the families you serve?
Speaking Spanish in communicating with our families is a vital part of my job. I think to how many families have immigrated here and language is a barrier that they face on a daily basis. By communicating with them in their own language we’re able to eliminate that barrier for some of the families who need our services the most. My Mom always told me that Spanish is important and she didn’t let me speak to her in English. Even though 3-year-old me was upset she wouldn’t respond in English, now I understand it’s because she didn’t want me to forget my roots, but also wanted to make it easier for me to find jobs and opportunities in my career. I’m thankful to be able to speak Spanish fluently and maintain that connection with the Hispanic community through my work at BBBSMB.
When do you feel like you are making a difference while doing your job?
I think I remind myself that I’m making a difference every day, but honestly the best part is the Match Meeting which is when I go to the family’s home with the Big and introduce them in person for an hour. It’s always a great moment because the Little is so excited, the parent or guardian is thankful, and the Big although nervous is also happy to start a new friendship. To me, it’s the moment you know you’ve started something great especially when the Big and Little immediately hit it off and start listing all the things they have in common. It always makes me happy and motivated to start another new friendship.
What are some challenges that Latino families or children face? And how as an agency could we work on catering to this need?
I think there are a couple of things Latino families and their children are currently facing. There are some things our agency can help them with and other things are beyond our reach. One of the things Latinos children are constantly facing is battling between two different cultures-wanting to fit into both and often not being fully accepted into either. I saw this growing up and even now when people ask where I’m from. I want to say I’m from New York because that’s where I grew up, but I’m also Colombian and I know that’s something that makes the Hispanic-American experience unique. I think as an agency we can find ways to support our Littles when they’re confused about their identity and trapped between wanting to be a part of two very different cultures. Their Big will be their biggest resource, and we can support our Bigs in ways that encourage their Little to celebrate those differences and understand how it shapes them as a person. We need to continue these conversations both internally as an agency and externally with our Bigs and families.
What’s your work with the Spanish Speaking team like?
Our Spanish Speaking team is an internal resource for our team members here at BBBSMB. I’m co-leading it with my colleague Itzel and we meet up to talk about current events, ways to improve our process, topics that affect our Hispanic Littles, how to best support our Spanish Speaking Bigs, and also have discussions on societal norms and challenges. Our goal is to not only learn and grow as an agency, but also use that knowledge to help support our Spanish speaking matches. Itzel and I are currently talking about ways we can expand to become a multicultural support group because it’s not just Hispanics as a group that can benefit from our work.
What advice would you give to someone who was interested in becoming a Big?
I would say think about the commitment and if you’re ready to not only have fun but also bring a Little into your life and become a part of theirs. Once you’re ready to take the step, start asking questions. Reach out to our team, talk to our recruitment team and past or current Bigs in your network to get a feel for what the experience will be like for you. Then, just go for it. We’ll help you and give you all the information you need to help best prepare you for a unique experience. It’ll be worth it when you’re at the Match Meeting and you see how happy your Little is to meet you.
How would you describe the culture at BBBSMB?
I would say working here at BBBSMB, it’s a very supportive and fun environment. Everyone here is committed to the cause of helping children and making a difference, and everyone works hard. You’ll have days that are tougher than others which happens when you’re working in this field and your team members will be there to fully understand and help you through that. You’ll make strong bonds with your co-workers and there will always be a great match story to hear that brightens up your day.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering coming to work for BBBSMB?
If you’re thinking about joining BBBSMB, don’t be afraid to reach out to one of us who already work here especially in the team you’re thinking of joining. That’s how you’ll get the best idea of what it’ll be like for you to work here as well. For me, I didn’t know what to expect when I started working here but in the past three years I’ve learned that this is a great nonprofit to work at. You’ll make strong connections not only in the office, but with the community and families we serve. On the enrollment team, you’ll have fun constantly meeting new people who share the same mindset of making our communities a better place, and to me that’s what’s most important.
Feeling inspired? Good news, we’re hiring! Check out these open positions to see how you can join our team.