Introducing the First Recipient of the Embrace Communities’ Great Neighbor Award* (2020) – Xiomara Vidal

Submitted by Caitlin McCaig on Wed, 03/18/2020 - 13:10

Xiomara Vidal

Congratulations to Xiomara Vidal!

Xiomara (pronounced Zee-mare-a) Vidal is the community connector at the Southwood Community Resource Center. She is the face of the clinic for the residents of Southwood Apartments. Most of them are Hispanic, coming to the States from a myriad of other countries.

 Xiomara was nominated for this award because of her passion for her work and for those in her sphere of influence within the community. She is a strong support and extends an ever-available listening ear. She listens with an understanding heart, because she truly cares and because she knows what it’s like.

Xiomara is a Dominican-American. She was born in the US to immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Her mother tongue is Spanish, but growing up in the US, like the children of Southwood, means she also has excellent English. She grew up between two cultures and values what a gift that is.

She has a deep care for families… the moms and daughters of Southwood. Many of the moms are the only parent in the home and must work long hours to provide for their children. Xiomara is especially drawn to the middle school girls who are struggling with their identity as Americans with another strong culture to call their own. Along with this, these girls carry the responsibility of younger siblings while their moms, or parents, work. They are growing up fast, and their moms see this and wish it could be different for them.

It was just a few months ago, when moms began reaching out to Xiomara for counsel on how to help their treasured middle school daughters. She took this cry for help very seriously. She understands.

Xiomara is also a single parent. She understands the challenge of living cross-culturally. Although a good student in school, she wasn’t able to fulfil her dream of a nursing education because of her own parents’ struggles. She knows what it’s like to work multiple jobs to care for her own children. She has experienced good fortune (including home ownership and advancement in jobs) …and then losing it for reasons not her own (a sick father, travel between Richmond and New York to help with his care… too many days away from her job).

When Xiomara tells her story, she mentions people by name who reached out to her through the years. Mentoring her, opening doors of opportunity for her, encouraging her, believing in her.

She learned well, because she is now that person to so many.

She sees herself as a bridge-builder and it is evident in both her job and the hours of volunteer work she spends with the families of Southwood. She sees what they can’t yet see.

“They [these moms and daughters] are more than they see themselves in the mirror.”

Xiomara began to listen to these moms talk about their daughters and their longing to connect with them. She heard, in their stories, the same struggle in the daughters. Wanting to belong but not sure how best to connect. As she got to know the girls, she could see a kaleidoscope of young women – with different abilities, from different countries, with different family situations – and yet so much same. School and friend group pressures. Not seeing how bright and beautiful they each are.

The word “kaleidoscope” stuck for Xiomara, and she began to see the seed of an idea grow into something both the moms and daughters embraced… even owned. What if they began a canteen experience – a gathering place for refreshment for body and soul. A place outside the home that would still be a safe place. Where everyone was welcome and can know they belong.

Xiomara began to make the “canteen” happen through the resource center. One event the girls especially love is a “nail salon” opportunity. It is a relaxed activity where the girls express their own style, enjoy refreshments together, talk about what is going on with them. Learning to be comfortable with each other. Even to be friends.

Some of the girls are even taking leadership in the planning and execution of the canteen events. Xiomara is able to include health information for the girls and their moms, in a very natural way.

Xiomara has real vision of what can be accomplished through these small commitments. In empowering the girls and their moms toward building relationships and community. She is not timid in her passion. Already Xiomara has vendors who donate food for the canteen. Nail polish and other supplies. Even planners for each of the girls to use to keep up with studies as well as other events at Southwood and beyond.

Though Covid 19 has pushed pause on many of these plans, Xiomara continues to find ways to nurture and encourage the girls and moms.  She has collected journals, gell pens and art supplies to help the girls document and process this challenging experience.  She is also engaging the mothers and daughters in helping to develop a neighborhood response to hunger facing thier community.  

This is Xiomara Vidal. Forward-thinking, passionate, persevering, hopeful, trusting the power of relationship. She has shown herself a true advocate for both the moms and the daughters, building a bridge for them with each other. She is drawing out this beautiful kaleidoscope of young and older women; raising a mirror for them to see what great value they all have…now and for the future.

“You feel the tension – she takes the hard stuff of life and sees the beauty – transforming the story.” – Wendy McCaig, Director of Embrace Communities

*The goal of Embrace Communities’ Great Neighbor Grants program is to provide start-up funding for community strengthening efforts. We support Proposals from community-based groups that build on the skills, abilities, capacities of neighborhood residents and that connect residents together in a way that leads to a stronger more vibrant community.

 

Deb Mills

This post was written by Deb Mills, a graduate of the Empowered Communities Institute. Deb volunteers as a member of our story telling team. She is a freelance writer and writes on the platform of DebMillsWriter.  

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