blog_11_23_18

EPY Community Spotlight: Charles

Photography: Sam Interrante

My name is Charles. I was born in New York City and moved to Lancaster when I was two and have called it home ever since.

I attended Resurrection Catholic School until 8th grade and then moved to Lancaster Catholic. I am a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh class of 2011 with a B.A. Double Major: Political Science & History, Minor: Theatre Arts. I then went to Drexel Law School in 2012 then I transferred to Villanova School of Law for my second year, but I struggled there and had to withdraw for medical reasons.

I spent the summer of 2015 in Spain working for the YMCA as an English Immersion Camp Counselor. The campsite was on the Spanish Side of the Pyrenees Mountains, north of the City of Zaragoza, where the local YMCA was headquartered. I lived at the camp and was the English Camp Counselor for Los Lobos (the wolves), the kids aged 9-10. My job was to speak to the kids in English and participate in all camp activities to help them learn English.

When the camp was over, I spent three weeks traveling north east Spain. My new friends and I spent a lot of time in Zaragoza, but we also went to Barcelona, and several beach towns along the coast including Cambrils where we stayed with my supervisor and his friends at a friend’s beach house. I had a very good time.

Why go to Spain? I was working for the YMCA in Lancaster part time as a lifeguard when I learned about the opportunity to work in Spain over the summer. I jumped on it, because I always wanted to visit Spain and had never been to Europe before. I also knew it would be a great place to practice my Spanish. My father’s side of the family is Puerto Rican and Iberian DNA is in my blood (21% approximately according to ancestry.com).

I had only been outside the country just twice before: once to see the Canadian Side of Niagara Falls, and the other, to stay at a resort for five days in the Dominican Republic. It was beautiful, but I was only sixteen and with my aunt, uncle, and grandmother.

My experience in Spain was so good that I decided I wanted to go back. I got a TEFL Certificate and found an English teaching job through an acquaintance from the camp. I taught students at an all boys Catholic school in Marbella. It was a beautiful area, right near the sea. The town I lived in was called Fuengirola and it was just perfect. But I only taught for a few months because wasn’t very good at it and I found out I had a baby on the way.

Family: I met a beautiful girl from Sweden while I was living in Fuengirola. We met online and instantly connected when we actually met in person. She was there on vacation and would go back to Sweden, but we kept in contact via Whatsapp. She visited me in Spain two more times, the second being around Christmas time and the news.

We decided that we wanted to be together and try to raise this child together. So, I left Spain and went to stay with her in Sweden. We got married and decided to apply for a US Green Card for my wife. She really loves America and we both wanted to live there together. We also feared that I would have trouble getting Swedish residency because of the Syrian refugee crisis. I was there during the height of it, we were being told that there were over 150,000 people processed.

My daughter was born in Sweden in July 2016. I instantly bonded with my little twin while I let my wife rest after a horribly painful, but safe, labor experience. At this point my wife had still not received her green card and I had not even applied for Swedish residency. I had to go back to the US and find a job but before I left, I made sure she had the papers needed to be an American Citizen. Returning to the US without my wife and newborn was the hardest thing I ever had to do. But it was only temporary or, so we thought.

What happened next was a series of unfortunate events and why I need yoga in my life today. My wife finally received her green card this year but chose not to live with me in Lancaster, opting for Miami instead. Our relationship crumbled almost as soon as I left Sweden after my daughter was born. I try to visit as much as I can, send money every month and gifts occasionally. Being away from my daughter is insufferable, but I know there will come a day when she will need me, and I will need to be present for her. Yoga is part of the self-care that has been helping me to become a stronger more mindful person. So far, it has worked wonders and I would love to share it with as many people as possible.

At this time, I am currently working as Drug and Alcohol Prevention for SACA, the same organization I worked for before I went to law school. My duties include teaching children, teens, and parents/family skills to resist pressure to begin using at an early age. The opioid epidemic has been a part of my community well before we all started calling it an epidemic. My father died when I was only thirteen because of his addiction. I take my job very seriously and want to help my community. Even though it’s not the highest paying, right now this job is the best way for me to do so. SACA is a great organization filled with people who truly care about the poor and marginalized. I would love to volunteer some of my time in the future to teach yoga at our inpatient facilities because I think the guys would really love it and it could really save lives too.

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