'This is my community'
Education doctoral candidate helps Latino community through COVID-19
By Page Ivey, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-3085
Lydia Carnesale knew just where to start to help members of her tight-knit Latino community in northeast Columbia when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The education Ph.D. candidate had worked five years earlier to help the same community during Columbia’s thousand-year flood event.
Both times, she looked toward the established community partnerships that focused on issues that could disrupt family well-being and on how to enhance their communities already existing strengths.
“It’s just a step-by-step process to find what’s most needed and what needs to happens next,” says Carnesale, who is pursuing her doctorate in language and literacy.
The first step was the most basic — food. Carnesale contributed to the setup of a food bank working to gather donations from the larger Columbia-area community, partnering with a local Latino grocery store for those specialized ingredients that might be difficult for immigrant families to find in larger chain grocery stores and distributing to families. The food bank has provided weekly bags of groceries worth about $30 to 75 families for more than two months.
“We collaborated with the school district’s social workers to find the most at-risk families in our area,” she says.
The second step was helping students keep up with their studies when they often did not have access to the internet for remote lessons and parents were unavailable because of work or unable because of language barriers to help with home-schooling.
“When school was in session, we offered tutoring,” Carnesale says. That included socially distanced home visits and virtual tutoring when possible.
“There was such a disconnect between good literacy practices and these children who were now isolated at home.”
A native of Mexico who says she grew up everywhere, Carnesale finished high school in Columbia and earned her bachelor’s degree from Columbia College and her master’s in arts in teaching from Liberty University in Virginia.
She has been a pre-kindergarten teacher at Clemson Road Child Development Center and now works with the Richland County First Steps program. She has also served as a dual language specialist assisting multilingual families, focusing on Latino Spanish speaking families throughout the state, in obtaining child care for children up to 12 years old.
“Part of my work is in my role as a doctoral student,” she says. “But at the heart of it, this is my community.”
Carnesale’s story can inspire members of her community, says Lenny Sánchez, professor in the language and literacy education at the College of Education and co-director of Bilingualism Matters @ UofSC.
“She’s been working with immigrant communities for her lifetime,” Sánchez says. “They have experienced challenges that are unique to them. She volunteered and created initiatives from a grassroots community partnership perspective.
“I have been so amazed by the kind of day-to-day action efforts that she is doing.”
Carnesale plans to continue her work when she completes her doctorate even though she is not sure what form that work will take, whether it’s becoming a college professor — “There are not enough faces like mine in classrooms,” she says — or continuing her nonprofit education work.
“I am getting my Ph.D. so I can keep doing the work I am doing but have a bigger impact,” she says. “I am going to change the world.”
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