A Final Post: Casa de Esperanza

Sorry for the delay in getting up my post about our final week—I left MN to come back to the east coast this week so things have been pretty crazy.

We started out week four with a reflective art project involving life-size paintings of the kids. Before getting into the hands-on part, we had a group discussion about positive self-image (in very kid friendly terms!) in which we thought of our positive characteristics as a group and individuals. The kids were more receptive to this type of reflection than they had been earlier which was great. We were able to push the kids to start thinking about how their personal strengths can help them get through hard times. Some of their responses when we shared our ideas were: “I take care of my younger brothers” and “I am good at soccer”. We then jumped right into the project by tracing all of the kids’ bodies on a large roll of paper. With paintbrushes, sponges, and fingers, they filled in the outlines with a lot of color!


On Tuesday we had another artsy day on site at the shelter. Before starting our activities, however, we had the pleasure of participating in a yoga class with Osiris, a yoga instructor at St. Catherine’s University. We transformed the dining room into a studio and four residents, two advocates, and myself enjoyed a peaceful morning yoga session. It was the residents’ first time doing yoga and they said they found it very calming and a few hope to continue with it. After yoga, the kids and the moms spent a large chunk of the day decorating picture frames and finishing up their scrapbooks. The moms helped their kids paste in more photos and fill out the resilience-based activity pages.

Wednesday we had another very busy day. Yolanda and her sister, Sofia, stayed at shelter to watch the kids in the morning while four residents and I had a spa day. We went to Phresh Salon and Spa on Grand Avenue, who generously offered discounted services. The four residents got massages and we had a relaxing morning waiting in a private “spa party room” drinking coffee and eating a light lunch. Soon after we got back to the shelter on Wednesday, we had another exciting visitor: Dr. Tlahtoki Xochimeh. Dr. T is a specialist in traditional Chinese medicine and indigenous healing, as well as a professor of Chicano & Latino Studies. During his visit to the Refugio, Dr. T gave a talk about healthy living, with a focus on self-care and alternative forms of maintaining wellness. A key element of his visit was Qi Gong, a form of Chinese meditation that he taught us.

On Thursday a group of ten plus myself trekked down to the Waterpark of America in Bloomington, a long anticipated excursion among both the mothers and the kids. We spent the whole day swimming in the wave pool, riding the slides, and lounging in the lazy river. It was a long and exciting day. 

On Friday we had our last cooking lesson with Josemy. For our last lesson, Josemy taught us two dishes from Puerto Rico, where he grew up: pastelón and quesitos. Pastelón is like Puerto Rican lasagna made with layers of ripe plaintains, seasoned ground beef, and shredded cheese. It was a huge hit! Quesitos are cream cheese filled pastries that are very popular in Puerto Rico and are so delicious. After cooking, the kids presented Josemy with a big thank you card they decorated and we sang happy birthday and ate cake to celebrate one of the kids’ birthdays. The celebration continued that evening with a trip to the movies to see Superman. Even though the movie quickly proved to be too scary for the littlest ones, it was very exciting for the kids to go to the movies for the first time! After the movie, the birthday boy and his family when out for Italian food, another fun “first” for them.


The following evening, the second part of the mothers’ celebration took place at Chino Latino, a great restaurant in Uptown, Minneapolis. Unfortunately only two of the residents could make it in the end, we were lucky enough to have Rosario, the Advocate Manager, and Irene, the Lead Advocate, join us. Everyone had such a good evening and the residents’ especially enjoyed a night out with just the women.

The day before I left MN, I was able to make it over to the Refugio to drop off photo slideshow and say goodbye to everyone. The kids had a blast seeing themselves on T.V. and watched the fifteen-minute DVD four times! That evening, we had our final event-a sushi dinner out as a thank you to the one teenage resident who had incredible patience and was a wonderful help.

Looking back, I am so so happy. I had such a wonderful time spending this month with the four families at the Refugio and based on the feedback I have gotten, both the mothers and the kids did as well. I am excited by the headway we have made at Casa with children’s programming and am motivated to continuing developing it when I get back from Mexico in the spring. This month, I have learned what works and doesn’t work in terms of working with kids in this specific situation going forward – this amazing month is just a start.

A huge thanks to everyone at Casa de Esperanza, Teresa Mesa, Yolanda Burckhardt, Diana Loaiza Tangarife, Dr. Tlahtoki Xochimeh, Osiris Guzman, Josemy Morales, and everyone who participated in the program.

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