One Family’s Resilience During COVID-19 Pandemic

“The bond my family and I have is even stronger now as we face this crisis together,” said Ariel Toribio, referencing the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected millions of lives around the globe. “We are extremely thankful for Families for Literacy and their work; they’ve truly made a difference in our lives.”

After Ariel moved from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. in 2015, it was important to him and his wife, Lisa, that their two children have access to the best education possible. In 2018, they enrolled their oldest son, now 10, in New City Kids, a program that provides after-school programming and academic support for local youth. Their son flourished in the program, but Ariel and Lisa were concerned they lacked the language proficiency and skillset to become more involved in his schoolwork.

Ariel soon learned that New City Kids, along with three other service providers Women Rising, Saint Peter’s University and Rising Tide Capital, were part of a collaborative of organizations called Families For Literacy which promotes family well-being through English language classes, academic support, financial education and more. Working hand-in-hand with families, the collaborative uses the Whole Family Approach to provide adults and children in the family with the tools to set, plan for, and achieve their goals together.

Deeply motivated to improve his English, Ariel, Lisa and their two children began working with the Families for Literacy at the end of 2019. They began working with a family case manager, Josh, to set academic goals for their two children and enroll in ESL classes. Josh also connected them with other services Families for Literacy had to offer, such as financial coaching and career-building workshops.

“I love that Families for Literacy is focused on integrated development for the entire family,” Ariel says. “We work together, both the kids and the parents, to hold ourselves accountable to the goals we set forward.”

After five months of hard work, the Toribio family had made significant progress toward their goals: Ariel and his wife were both employed and working with their son regularly to set weekly academic goals. Ariel had made progress with his English language skills. The family was beginning to set financial goals, working on budgeting techniques with Josh. Though the family was always communicative with one another, the skills they gained from Families for Literacy helped them to become even closer, helping them to realize how much they had in common as they pursued their goals together.

Then, the COVID-19 outbreak changed everything. Ariel quickly recognized that his and his son’s asthma put them at increased risk. Concerned for the well-being of his family, Ariel stopped working as soon as he began hearing of coronavirus cases in New Jersey, which significantly impacted the family’s financial security. Both of the family’s children had to quickly transition to attending classes and completing schoolwork online. Ariel missed his ESL classes and the benefits of seeing and practicing with his classmates in person. The family’s financial planning and budgeting goals were now on hold while Ariel and Lisa focused on making immediate ends meet.

The situation is frustrating, but working with Families for Literacy has given the Toribio family a solid foundation to weather this crisis. The budgeting tips they learned from Josh are helping them to better manage their finances in an emergency. Lisa is now able to work from home, allowing her to balance her career with caring for her children. Both children are doing well in their online classes. Ariel plans to continue focusing on learning English through the online support offered by the collaborative, and the new learning approach is motivating him to practice at home more with his family. Ariel’s son has even started to hold him accountable for meeting his language goals.

“If he sees me just sitting on the couch, he begins to question me and forces me to do my own homework and brings it over so I can practice,” says Ariel.

Every day brings a new challenge, but the Toribio family never feels alone. They lean on the relationships they have built with Josh and the attentive Families for Literacy staff who check in regularly and keep their spirits up. More importantly, the bonds the family has with each other are stronger than ever.

“My family and I are looking forward to staying united and continuing to support each other through this. I am choosing to look at the positive side during this crisis,” Ariel says. “There’s always a light at the end of every difficult situation, and Families for Literacy can be that for anyone who gives it a chance.”