"Everyone has a gift to give," says Beatriz Cantelmo, an advocate and advisor for people with disabilities. "If you invest in a human being, and give them the tools and skills to follow their dreams, they will be in a position to give back." She smiles and adds, "It happened to me."
Nineteen years ago, Beatriz arrived in Madison as a young newlywed unable to speak English and with no friends of her own. She had been a medical student in Brazil, fluent in both Portuguese and Spanish, but her university credits would not transfer to a university in the US.
"I had to start from scratch," she says.
That's where Literacy Network came in. Beatriz needed a tutor to help her prepare for university studies in this country - someone whose schedule was flexible enough to accommodate her full-time work at a fast-food restaurant. What she got was more than just a language teacher.
"He was my first American friend," she says of Matt, who at the time was also a student. "He was like a cultural liaison to America and to this city. He explained cultural nuances that you don't learn in a classroom. That was so valuable for me."
Working one-on-one with her tutor, Beatriz acquired enough English to begin taking classes at the UW-Madison. By the time she had finished her pre-med requirements, however, she had a different career in mind. "I worked for a non-profit, and from the beginning I knew that was my calling."
Today, Beatriz has her own consulting business, Integrative Life Paths. She helps people with disabilities transition into the workplace. She also helps Latinas who are victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault.
"My job is to figure out a person's strengths and also what's missing in their lives. What services are available in the community that they can be linked with."
As Beatriz became known for her vocational and advocacy work, she began helping people from all walks of life manage their career or life changes.
"I try to serve as a bridge between two cultures. Professionals in health care and law enforcement are still on a learning curve on how to best serve Latina clients," says Beatriz.
Beatriz credits Literacy Network with helping to launch her career in community work. "Learning English makes such a difference in a person's life, in helping realize a dream, in having the ability to be productive. It's the tool that opens so many doors. When I came here nineteen years ago, I couldn't have imagined how committed and connected I would become to my community. I have a huge sense of gratitude. I have received so much. Madison has been very welcoming to me. Now it's my turn to give back."
"Wherever you are Matt," she adds. "Thank you!"
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