Hello! My name is Lesly Velazquez. I am a first-generation college student at Drake University. I am a first-year student majoring in Secondary Education with an English endorsement. When I was accepted into the Engaged Citizen Corps program, I was so ecstatic that I couldn’t wait to be on campus. I found out that I had been accepted to the program while we were in quarantine back in March. I had hoped the pandemic would soon be over but alas here we are. We’re almost a year in and I’ve still been able to learn so much even though most of the work is virtual.

Through the Engaged Citizen Corps program, I am able to work with Proteus, Inc. whose mission is to provide agricultural workers and their families with affordable health care, education assistance, and job training. Proteus serves immigrant, minority and low-income populations to make their dream of a brighter tomorrow a reality by helping them overcome language and cultural barriers in order to better provide for their families. Everything that I have learned so far has allowed me to grow and I can’t wait to see where this takes me.

Have you ever wondered how the food on your table gets there? It’s a really long process and at the very beginning of that process are farmworkers. Farmworkers aren’t given nearly enough credit for all they do for us. They have to work no matter what the circumstances are whether it be harsh weather conditions, health concerns, and even a global pandemic. Farmworkers are heroes, and they should be treated as such, but they unfortunately are not. Proteus recognizes that this is an issue which is why they provide farmworkers and their families with affordable health care, since they are unable to receive health insurance most of the time. Proteus and AFOP conduct health and safety training about heat stroke and ways to stay safe.

Proteus has offices in Iowa, Indiana, and Nebraska. The locations out of state focus primarily on the National Farm Workers Jobs Program (NFJP), which helps farmworkers look for different career paths. Through the NFJP program, Proteus is able to help farmworkers get their GED, enroll in community college, among so many other things. When the pandemic began there were so many unanswered questions and there still continue to be. Like most of the world farmworkers were concerned about their safety and how to make ends meet; on top of all their concerns they had to continue to put food on everyone’s tables. Proteus stepped in to help farmworkers during the pandemic in April by creating a campaign called “Face Masks for Farmworkers”. The demand for face masks was increasing as COVID-19 continued to spread. Essential workers all over the world needed to have face masks in order to keep working and farmworkers were no exception. 15,000 face masks were donated to Proteus and our team was able to distribute the donations to farmworkers across Iowa, Indiana, and Nebraska. Another way that Proteus has continued to support farmworkers throughout the pandemic was through the Iowa Immigrant community fund. Proteus received $750,000 dollars which Proteus was able to distribute to farmworkers and meat processing workers that faced significant challenges as a result of the pandemic. This grant allowed Proteus to help with financial assistance that helped cover things like rent, utilities, and medicine for Iowans.

My site supervisor is Josefina Lopez and she is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Proteus. When I first started, she had also recently started working at Proteus; we worked together to establish a routine and she has helped me learn so much. I had some experience working with Canva (a platform to create graphics to post on social media) and as my time at Proteus continues, I have developed even more skills. I have assisted her with some of the graphics posted on social media. In the past, I had never used Excel before and I was very unfamiliar with the program. Over my time at Proteus, I’ve become more comfortable while using it. There are so many icons and different features that can be intimidating at times, but I know that I will benefit from knowing how to use Excel in the future.

One of the biggest takeaways that I have gained from this experience is that I have decided that I want to serve my community by becoming an educator. I was always interested in teaching because of the teachers that have helped me get to where I am today. Working at Proteus has made me realize that I want to continue giving back to my community. I have realized how passionate I am about helping my community grow and succeed. The best way for me to do this is by educating the next generation of students. Over break I took a J-Term course (a 3-week course in January) which is another requirement for the ECC program. I interviewed my high school principal and did a lot of research on what it means to be an educator. I learned so much about my personality in another course we were required to take was the Toxic Charity course; I am now able to identify my strengths and weaknesses. After learning so much about myself and service in our First Year Seminar, ECC seminar, J-Term, and my time at Proteus so far, I have decided that I am passionate about learning and I want to help others learn by becoming an educator.

All in all, over this past year I have been able to fix any misconceptions that I had previously had about service. I now know what effective service looks like and how to engage others to be an active citizen in their community. This program has allowed me to grow and connect with the Des Moines community which is everything that I ever wanted. If you would like to learn more about Proteus, you can follow us on all our social media where you will get all the latest updates. Our social media handle for Instagram and Twitter is @Proteus_inc; you can find us on Facebook as Proteus, Inc. and you can also sign up for our monthly  newsletter, https://mailchi.mp/proteusinc/news. I am very grateful for this experience so far, everyone who I’ve met, and all the learning that will continue to help me grow.