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January 17, 2018 | Abby Liu
Eliazar Hernandez, MSS Class of 2009 knows what it means to struggle in school. Now a high school and college graduate, he looks back and says the things that he struggled with have become his pride and joy. Here’s why.
What was it like to grow up bilingual?
Growing up bilingual was hard. Home and school were two completely different worlds, different cultures, too. As the only US-born child in my family I was expected to outperform my older siblings, but I struggled the most. Both my parents are immigrants, so they were learning a lot along with me. Of course now I get to experience the benefits of speaking two languages.
What do you mean by “the things I struggled with have become my pride and joy?”
I struggled to learn English. I couldn’t read or write in second grade when all of my peers could. I remember sitting down with Ms. Miller, who provided extra help in the Resource Room. She explained that I would be repeating second grade. I was ashamed at the time. Now I know it was exactly what I needed. The shame turned to pride as I kept on working at it. By high school I was in English honors classes and I decided to major in English in college.
When did you start working with Ms. Miller and what was it like to receive extra help?
I began to work with Ms. Miller in first grade when my teachers noticed my language delay. Ms. Miller never made me feel ashamed or embarrassed about spending time in the Resource Room. Instead, I looked forward to spending time with a caring, warm person who could explain things in ways I could understand.
Why did you major in English?
I had been working so much with Mrs. Miller on language arts that I began getting better and better at recognizing elements of literature, reading, writing, etc. I grew to love the work, so I decided to keep at it. I also wanted the chance to write more poetry, and I did!
In fact, one of my favorite memories from college was when a poem of mine about my mother was selected to be read during an immigrant-recognition event. The director of the Human Rights Institute at my college came up to me after my reading with tears in her eyes and told me that the poem reminded her of her own mother. She thanked me and it humbled me, truly.
What are you doing now?
I’m the donor relations specialist at Covenant House in New York City working with in-kind donations. We are sent items for homeless, runaway, and trafficked youth and I process them and give them to our young people.
I’m also a part of Covenant House Faith Community which is a group of recent college grads living in community here in Manhattan; we pray together and work together at the shelter, too.
How do you serve others in your life?
I serve the young people of Covenant House every day by getting them clothes, socks, toiletries, etc., but also by lending them an ear to hear about their struggles and their triumphs. MSS definitely taught me to give, serve, and make an impact. The donations we made to the Hoboken Shelter reminded me that there is a great need for workers in homeless shelters, and that’s how I eventually found Covenant House.
What role does faith have in your life?
The idea of the mustard seed is so true! Having faith–even if it’s tiny at first–can make such an impact on others. My faith has grown since leaving MSS and it’s the thing that drives my every decision. I believe that I’m called to make a difference in the world.
What does Mustard Seed’s financial aid program mean to you?
The financial aid program gave my brothers and me a chance to grow in every way possible. The education that I received at Mustard Seed made it possible for my mind to expand, my heart to grow, and my faith to be put in action. MSS nurtured me and laid the foundation of my work and mission today.
If you could say anything to the donors that made it possible for you to attend MSS, what would you say?
You are a physical manifestation of God’s grace in this world. As a financial aid recipient, I was able to see that, even though I did nothing to warrant my education, it was given to me freely, and I am better for that gift.
Why should people give to the financial aid program?
Financial aid for a Mustard Seed education allows people like me to live authentic and brilliant lives. By giving to Mustard Seed, you are able to send a genuine, passionate human being out into the world with faith, knowledge, and a heart to do what’s right.
What are some of your hopes and dreams for the future?
I really want to teach. After college, I got a TESOL/ESL certification so I can travel the world and teach English. As an ESL learner myself, I know I can understand some of the struggles of learning English. I can teach to that struggle.
Is there anything else you want to share?
I loved MSS so much! The holistic approach to education (art, music, literature, social studies, drama, singing, and so much more) has given me many different experiences and has granted me the goal of education according to Dr. King: “Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” If I have children, I know where they’ll be going!
Eliazar Hernandez graduated from Mustard Seed School in 2009, Eastern Christian High School in 2013, and Kean University in 2017.