Volunteer Spotlight: María José Rosales
by Stacy Eisenstark
In 2011, María José Rosales was a sophomore at Texas A&M University, pursuing degrees in biology and Spanish language. However, she also wanted to get involved in the off-campus community. Born in Chile, María José had moved with her family when she was eight to the Houston/Katy area, where she grew up bilingual. When she approached her academic advisor, Rosalinda Aregullín, about community service opportunities, Rosalinda suggested she check out BIIN.
BIIN was in its early stages, located in the little blue house, Casa Juan Pablo, behind Santa Teresa Catholic Church in Bryan. When María José started volunteering, she recalls, basic supplies—tables and chairs—were scarce and outreach was limited.
BIIN volunteers focused primarily on Information, Referral, and Assistance (IRA) services, also called “intake and referral” or “intakes.” María José points out, “At the time, more places in the area offered services for the immigrant community; the local libraries used to have citizenship classes.” BIIN wanted to fill in the gaps, not duplicate efforts. Six years on, IRA services continue to be the heart of the organization, according to María José. She oversees intakes on Saturday mornings and says her favorite part of the program is when she sits with clients and listens to their stories.
IRA volunteer duties largely involve translating documents (birth certificates, letters, etc.), but also include accompanying clients to appointments and school meetings, providing translation and advocacy support. Clients bring a variety of questions or concerns to IRA, and the volunteers do their best to help them resolve these problems. Otherwise, volunteers refer clients to alternative resources. For instance, BIIN does not offer legal counsel, but will refer eligible clients to Catholic Charities of Central Texas, who provide affordable immigration legal services.
Since joining the organization, María José has seen BIIN increase outreach and expand services to citizenship classes in English and Spanish. BIIN also launched Centro de Derechos Laborales (Center of Workers’ Rights). CDL offers workshops along with advocacy services to help immigrant workers recover stolen wages. None of this, María José notes, would be possible without BIIN’s fundraising efforts and the support of donors over the years.
In addition to volunteering, María José teaches sixth grade math in the dual language program at a local public school. “If not for my experiences at BIIN, I would not have known about the need for dual language teaching,” she explains. Her knowledge of local school districts is a major asset for her work at BIIN. She helps parents navigate administrative policies and find information about available services, especially for special education programs. Being bilingual, she notes, has also been an important tool. “It helps make people who come to BIIN feel comfortable if they are nervous.”
María José finds immense satisfaction working as part of the BIIN team to help people. Her advice for anyone interested in volunteering? It can be challenging at first due to language barriers and differences in cultural backgrounds, but it is a rewarding experience for people interested in advocating for and building ties with our immigrant community in Bryan-College Station.