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ConnectVA Spotlight: Christina Manikus, Adult Education Programs Coordinator, Sacred Heart Center

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Christina Manikus and I am the Adult Education Programs Coordinator at the Sacred Heart Center. I started my relationship with Sacred Heart Center as a volunteer teaching English as a Second Language after I had recently moved to Richmond from Argentina. While in Argentina, I had taught English, and I was able to bring my experience to share with the other teachers. I joined the staff towards the end of 2014 and have since evolved in my role from Development Assistant to Volunteer Coordinator and now working primarily with the adult programs. This has given me a well-balanced sense of the organization and nonprofits in general. In a former life I focused more on communications, since I studied Media Arts & Design with a minor in Theater & Dance at JMU and worked on a few movie sets afterwards.


What is the focus of your work?

My role at the center has me planning and coordinating all our adult education programs that are geared to the Latino communities. For adults we offer morning and evening classes of English as a Second Language, GED Preparation in Spanish, Basic Spanish literacy & numeracy through Plaza Comunitaria, Citizenship, Conversational Spanish Classes, and Basic Computer class.

Immigrants and refugees often come to us with a need to improve their English language ability or continue their education. Their motivations are to help their families, usually by communicating with their children’s’ teachers and doctors or helping with homework.

Our adult programs meet that need by offering English and Citizenship classes in basic English and our other educational programs in Spanish. We have had students finish our programs and subsequently be able to get better jobs or continue their studies at a community college. We have also had students who join our Latino Leadership Institute to learn to support their communities by becoming a grassroots leader.

ABOVE: A video by the Sacred Heart Center where participants share their dreams.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

My favorite part of the job is talking to our adult learners about their personal hopes and goals and helping them imagine how they can achieve them. Letting them know about opportunities to educational or career growth after they finish our programs (GED and English) helps them to set objectives and finish our programs.

What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?

One of the challenges I have had was keeping up with the demand for immigration court letters that students might need to prove they are studying. The letters have changed with what information is required, especially for DACA students. I’ve needed to lessen the requirements and the time it takes for students receiving the letters to make sure students had what they needed from us, in order not to compromise their immigration status.

Another continual challenge is working with staff and volunteer teachers to make sure the education we are providing is the highest quality possible. This has meant more observations and giving feedback to instructors, as well as shifting volunteers into better suited positions. We have around 39 adult education classes happening most weeks, so it’s a lot to keep up with!

What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?

Most think of us for our English classes or possibly GED but we have many youth programs and have been expanding the services we offer to include notary and immigration paperwork. We also impact many more families through important services by being a community hub with partner organizations who offer food bank, tax services, counseling, support groups, and consulate services from different countries.

Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?

Our newest program for adults is Conversational Spanish for non-native speakers. We will have Beginner and Intermediate for this Fall 2018 semester, hopefully adding more levels as interest in the classes goes up. This is exciting for me since our focus has been on the Latino communities and this one is on the people who will be interacting with Latino families. I hope that through our classes, the Spanish students will get to know Richmond’s Latino communities better and that our Richmond community actively embraces each other in our shared humanity.  Information about class registration is on our website, at www.shcrichmond.org

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

The Sacred Heart Center is built on community collaborations.  Our ESL and Spanish Literacy programs are administered by trained volunteers that come to the SHC through community and university partnerships.  We rely on relationships with entities such as Virginia Commonwealth University, the Mexican Consulate, University of Richmond, Virginia Literacy Foundation, and others to assist us in recruiting volunteers and in providing training to our volunteers to ensure that they are ready for the classroom.

The organizations that work with us through our community hub program are many and varied. We work with Legal Aid Justice Center, Virginia Healthcare Foundation, and others to conduct cross referrals for legal services, medical assistance, and other programs.  The Bon Secours Care-A-Van provides medical services at our location once a month.  Several family support groups are conducted at the SHC in Spanish, in partnership with VCU and VCU Health System.  We operate a free bilingual tax preparation site in partnership with United Way/MetroCASH during tax season.  Most recently, we began an innovative partnership with Safe Harbor to expand domestic violence awareness and services to Latino families.

How are you leveraging ConnectVA and the Community Foundation to achieve your mission?

We are grateful to be a partner with the Community Foundation, as a grantee and through other collaborations, and I personally went through the Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program which has been truly transformed how I relate to coworkers and staff. More on the logistical side, we have also found much needed office furniture on the ConnectVA Item Exchange. We find passionate volunteers through recruitment on HandsonRVA, which also connected me to Greater Richmond Association for Volunteer Administration (GRAVA) to network and learn from other volunteer managers.

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