SILER CITY — Veronica Nuñez’s calling in life revolves around being able to help those around her.
Whether that translates into helping Latino students find educational opportunities and support, or helping her mother recover from hip replacement surgery in 2019, she hopes to improve the lives of those around her.
“I love helping people,” Nuñez told the News + Record. “If I’m ever at a store where someone is having a hard time communicating — especially with Hispanic families — it’s no trouble to ask if they need help or need help translating. I like being able to help people whenever I see that they need it.”
As the new Family Advocate program assistant for Communities In Schools of Chatham County, Nuñez is doing just that. She works with families assigned through the county’s Juvenile Court and recommends programs and resources. She started in mid-August.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity that Communities In Schools gave me,” Nuñez said. “I’m glad the department has had that trust to welcome me into their family because we’re not just co-workers, but family. We support each other in different situations and cases. I’m just really glad to be here.”
Formerly known as Chatham County Together, CIS began in 1989 as a way to provide more prevention services to Chatham County students.
They work with students referred by Chatham County Schools, the Department of Social Services, the Division of Juvenile Justice, in addition to mental health providers and parents. CIS provides free services in English and Spanish.
“We provide interpreting services to families a lot of the time — we help them specifically with psychological or clinical services,” said Maria Soto, who serves as CIS’ family advocate and Nuñez’s supervisor. “We essentially work with families to have those kinds of evaluations. So I’m very happy and at ease that she’s here.”
Nuñez works to ensure children stay and find success in school through educational, emotional and social support.
One of her goals in this new position is to help non-English speaking families and students attain resources she didn’t have when she was a child.
Originally from Los Angeles, Nuñez is one of nine children. Both of her parents are from Mexico — her mother from Guerrero and father from Michoacán.
Since her parents didn’t speak English, there were few people to help her navigate the school system. The majority of her homework was in English, as were parent-teacher meetings and classes. Because they didn’t speak English, her parents didn’t have a solid understanding of the educational opportunities and resources available for their children.
“They couldn’t give me that support when I needed help in school,” Nuñez said.
Her older brother — Rudy Estrada — served as one of few lifelines. He routinely helped her with homework and learning English.
Nuñez attended Benjamin Franklin High School, a public school in the Highland Park neighborhood close to downtown LA. There, she realized she had hopes of becoming a registered nurse.
“It always called my attention,” Nuñez said. “I was always interested in helping patients, how to connect with patients, how to help them get better and how to help them with their medications. More than anything, I wanted to be able to help people.”
After graduating in 1996, she moved to Siler City with other siblings who were already living in the area.
Her first job was at the Glendale Hosiery Outlet Store in Siler City. On top of that, she started taking classes at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro and registered with the nursing program.
But her studies were put on hold after becoming pregnant with her daughter Vanessa — the oldest of three children.
Nuñez dropped out of college and switched careers. She began working at the Chatham Child Development Center as a teaching assistant in 2007. Over the years, she worked as a CCS employee in a variety of different roles, such as secretary, interpreter, and data manager.
Her passion for helping others evolved into the educational sector. She found herself being able to find opportunities for Latinx students — ones she didn’t have as a young student.
“Many of the families that we work with have recently emigrated to the United States,” Nuñez said. “Many of them aren’t aware of the systems that are available to support and help them, and sometimes these families also can’t read. I want to be their voice.”
But she still dreams of going back to school.
“I’ll never lose faith that I will return back to school because that is my end goal,” Nuñez said.
While working as a data manager, she met Jazmin Mendoza Sosa, who now serves as CIS’ program director. Mendoza Sosa said Nuñez’s friendly and helpful attitude makes her a beneficial asset to the organization.
“She’s always very friendly and always has a smile — very polite,” Mendoza Sosa said. “She’s a quick learner and definitely learns very, very fast. She’s also a team player — there are some members of our staff that are not bilingual and she’s always willing to help them.”
Some time ago, as part of the CIS’ Juvenile Crime Prevention Candle team, Nuñez worked with a new family to interpret and register a new family because Mendoza Sosa was unavailable. Her help meant not canceling intake with the family and delaying their opportunity to receive services.
“By her being so willing to do the interpretation, since I was unavailable, that helped us not cancel the meeting and that helped us start the services earlier,” Mendoza Sosa said.
Soto said having Nuñez on board with the department will be instrumental in supporting families across the Siler City area.
“She has the spirit and personality that is a great asset to our department,” Soto said.
Nuñez said there is a greater demand for assistance from Latino families in the Siler City area, where nearly half of the population is Hispanic.
“In working in schools and with families, I’m able to support families,” Nuñez said. “Social work has become my calling.”
Heidi Pérez-Moreno is a part-time reporter and translator with La Voz de Chatham, the News + Record’s bilingual reporting project.