Howdy! My name is Bill Boegeman, and I’m a high school social studies teacher in Forest Lake, Minnesota. Some of my students are from Central America – refugees now living in the U.S., many of whom made the journey to the States alone.
Their stories are amazing – spending hours in cramped semitrailer trucks and trunks of cars, hiding from the Federales and narcotraficantes as they trekked across the Mexican desert. It’s difficult for me – and my other students – to imagine what these young people have been through, what hardships they have already endured, and the complexities they’re faced with now.
So I wanted to go see for myself – and do what I could to help teenagers and families who are still at the border, who are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. And to try to make a difference, one day at a time.
I traveled with Alight to the Rio Grande Valley, a vast area encompassing the southern border of Texas and parts of Mexico. In some ways, it feels a little bit like two countries living in one, cultures blended and economies interconnected. And now, Mexican-American communities are coming together with some incredible changemakers – Catholic Sisters, who Alight has recently partnered with – to serve the new waves of families who are searching for a better life.
We began our work at La Posada Providencia,a migrant shelter just outside of San Benito, Texas. It’s a landing spot for many migrants released from detention centers with nowhere to go.
Five years ago, Ángel was one of those migrants.
After immigrating from Honduras and five months in detention, Ángel spent three months at La Posada where he was provided with a bed, regular meals, and mentoring services. Following a brief stint in Indianapolis, he returned to the shelter as a volunteer. Fast forward a few months and Ángel was converted into a full-fledged employee — the house cocinero — a position he still holds today.
In addition to his cooking duties, Ángel helps to organize the shelter’s mochilas – to-go bags provided to clients who are ready to move on to their next destination. These bags include non-perishable food items, personal care products, a change of clothes, and other items that will help them along this next stage of their journey. It was here that we saw an opportunity.
Over a lunch that Ángel prepared, La Posada’s current residents were able to provide us with ideas of items that would be useful to migrants in their mochilas as they depart the shelter for their next destinations. We landed on two primary items that we could provide: Spanish-to-English dictionaries and chapstick. While seemingly unrelated, these two things would be helpful to them in their future journeys (in the case of the chapstick, particularly those headed north). They were also absent from the supply closet on the La Posada premises.
I asked Ángel what made La Posada Providencia such a special place. “It’s more than a shelter,” he said, “It’s a house, a home, a family.”
La Posada absolutely meets the physical needs of the migrants arriving there (food, water, and shelter), but they address the emotional side, too. Perhaps that’s why Ángel decided to return to the place that gave him his start – to give back to the first place he was able to call home since his flight from Honduras. Now he’s serving those that are finding their first American home, too. And we’re happy to help him do it.
Bill is a social studies teacher at Forest Lake Area High School, living in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. A native Minnesotan, Bill spent a year in Mexico, teaching English and becoming fluent in Spanish. The opportunity to make an impact on the issues happening on the southern border has been a time he’ll always cherish. When not in the classroom, petting his cats, or writing for his blog, you can find him in the wrestling ring as the Revolutionary Bill Williams.