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Former Pima Community College Student Educates Immigrants

Ruth Tapia is giving back to her community an act that fulfills her need to help others.

The native of Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, remembers a time when people extended a hand to help her through Pima Community College Adult Education’s family literacy program.

That was five years ago, and today Tapia, 33, is working as the economic literacy coordinator at Tucson Community Food Bank.

Tapia recently shared her experiences at a luncheon before 900 people hosted by the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona at the Tucson Convention Center.

The mother of three recalled feeling intimidated at parent-teacher conferences and frustrated because she could not help her children with their homework at Blenman Elementary School.

She received a flier from the school informing her about the literacy program, and she quickly enrolled. Her life and that of her family’s changed for the better. She completed the program in 2004.

In family literacy, Tapia and her children Ruth Elizabeth, 12, David, 11, and Daniel, 8 studied together and progressed in reading skills and in speaking English. Her husband, Rolando Tapia, 43, a maintenance man at a local church, supported his family in their education.

In time, Tapia began volunteering in the classroom and helping prepare lessons to get parents and children to read together. Tapia’s instructor saw her progress and encouraged her to apply for an opening at the food bank.

Tapia did and has been in her position for more than a year. She mostly works with immigrant women who used to live in rural areas in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Some also come from Africa and Asia.

“Ruth is a great resource for the women who are now struggling because she has been through it,” said Sandie Hinojos, family advocate at the food bank.

Tapia teaches the newcomers about U.S. currency and credit and how to budget their spending and establish a savings plan.

She also is helping mothers start vegetable gardens so their families can eat fresh produce. She educates them about nutrition and informs them about shopping at the Farmers’ Market.

The market is held at the food bank on Tuesday from 8 a.m. to noon, and on Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m.

Tapia shares her knowledge through a monthly newsletter, “Pequenos Consejos de Ruth,” which she writes. She includes tips about nutrition, buying and spending plans and healthy eating.

“The coolest thing about Ruth is that she speaks from personal experience and recognizes the value of family literacy,” said Varga Garland, director of the food bank.

Tapia describes her progress as a “miracle” and wants female immigrants to know they are not alone.

“You have options. There is opportunity for you, too,” Tapia said.

– Associated Press

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