Home away from home
When people come to House of Neighborly Service, they typically stick around for at least two or three years. That’s how long Hernández has been coming.
She takes two buses to make it to the center. She’s established a great network of friends who give her rides home and frequently call to check in.
For her, it’s so much more than bingo.
She recalls a time in her life when she struggled with depression and stayed in the house watching her Spanish soap operas.
“I wouldn’t do anything but cook, clean the house, and watch my novelas,” she says.
Originally from Coahuila, Mexico, Hernández taught herself to read and write in Spanish after her father pulled her out of school in the fourth grade. “My mom died when I was six, and my dad beat me every day,” says Hernández.
Her husband for 50 years was also physically abusive.
“He died seven years ago, and now that he’s gone, I have peace.”
In recent years, House of Neighborly Service has provided Hernández a safe space for healing and support. She no longer feels isolated. Now, she’s part of a close-knit group of seniors who enjoy spending time together. It’s become her second home.
Bridging generational gaps through reading
In 2007, House of Neighborly Service established its senior health program for elderly neighbors, providing free lunches and jewelry making, sewing, and dancing classes.
Seniors receiving these services are also encouraged to get involved in some of the nonprofit’s other programs.
Libritos con Abuelitos—Books with Grandparents—is a child literacy program that launched in March 2019. Designed to bridge the gap between two generations—seniors and kids—the program focuses on teaching the rising generation how to read in English and Spanish.
Child literacy is a big issue in San Antonio. Many of the kids living in under-resourced neighborhoods don’t have access to books.
In neighborhoods where incomes tend to be high, the ratio of books per child is 13 to 1, while only one age-appropriate book is likely available for every 300 children in neighborhoods where incomes are low, according to the Children’s Book Bank.
Hernández, who has 12 great-grandchildren, none of them Spanish speakers, jumped at the opportunity to read to young kids in Spanish.
Sitting down with her hands crossed in her lap, Hernández smiles when talking about one reading buddy who captured her heart.
His name was Santiago, and he was three years old. She called him “Santi.”
“He loved reading and learning about whales,” she says. “He was very outgoing but would get embarrassed if I asked him a question. And he smiled a lot.”
When Santiago graduated from the program, he gave Hernández his photo signed on the back: “I love you grandma.”
Hernández looks forward to participating in the literacy program again, which is on hold until the completion of House of Neighborly Service’s new facility, scheduled to open sometime later this year.
The temporary pause in Libritos con Abuelitos hasn’t stopped her one bit. She still has a full schedule: chair yoga on Tuesday, bingo on Wednesday, and lunch and Zumba Fitness on Friday.
Thanks to House of Neighborly Service, she says, “I’m always laughing and having a good time.”