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An Art Piece By Richard Monteleone

Richard Monteleone is a retired college professor, working visual artist, former Vice President for Project Light of Manatee, Inc., Ambassador for Ringling Museum of Art, and the Artistic Director of The Community Center for The Arts, Inc. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from The University of The Arts, Philadelphia, PA., and a four-year Certificate of Fine Arts from The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA.

Project Light is honored to present Richard’s art piece “Reflection” at our First Annual Winter Fundraiser Event, “Bubbles, Beats & Bites” on December 3rd as our main live auction item.

“Reflection” By Richard Monteleone (Size 38x48”)

Coming from a family of immigrants himself, “Reflection” is a visual representation of his and his family's experience of seeking a better life in a different country all the while trying to overcome a language and cultural barrier.

“I am of Italian and Polish heritage. My family came to America in 1917 via Ellis Island. Like all families that dreamed of a better life, my ancestors worked hard to learn the language and secure a job. My family did not have a resource like Project Light. It was vital for them to create a new culture; culture and family life filled with freedom, creativity, expansion, and pride.”

“The painting “Reflection” illustrates this experience through an abstract/non-objective level. The fragmented face, with an open mouth and sectioned head, represents the possibility of the contribution of my family’s voice and thoughts integrated into a new homeland. The circles in close proximity represent the infinity, wholeness, totality, cyclic, and presence of a god. The colors are subtle gestures, and an overall kind and conscious narrative of a moment in time when all was well in the world.

This piece is vintage and originally created over 27 years ago. I kept this piece in my own personal gallery for this time because of its meaning and legacy. I am finally willing to let it go, to enter the progress of yet another American dream for the students, staff, board, and community for Project Light. “

You may acquire this art piece by participating in our live auction at our event “Bubbles, Beats & Bites” on Dec 3rd from 6-8 PM to take place at Art Avenue On Palm, 1289 N.Palm Ave. Sarasota, FL 34236.

Purchase tickets by clicking here.

-Deborah Thomas-

English Teacher

As you may already know, our beloved volunteer teachers are the backbone of Project Light. They dedicate their time, knowledge, and energy to teaching adults the English skills necessary for achieving their dreams in America.

Today we would like to introduce one of our most dedicated volunteers. Deborah has been with us at Project Light for five years, yes, five years of helping shape people’s lives. This year she is teaching English Level 101 in the mornings.

Miss Thomas first found out about our program at a Manatee Retired Educators Meeting, at that time, Chris McCormick the previous Executive Director, was giving a talk about Project Light and expressed the need for volunteer teachers. The idea of sharing her experience and knowledge in order to help immigrant adults find success in a new country appealed to her.

“Volunteering at Project Light was the right choice for me because I had taught school for 33 years and had the skills. I’ve always liked helping people learn, and there was a need…and I was curious!”

Deborah quickly found her place and purpose in the Project Light family and consequently in her community.

“What I like most about this non-profit is the people—the students, the staff, and the board members. Also, it’s a chance to give back to my community—helping adult students become proficient in English means they can be more productive in our community. The hours work for me.”

Of course, I had to ask Deborah about a student that stood out to her, after 5 years of teaching adults, surely she would have some stories to share.

“A student that stands out: Sainvilus from Haiti. Middle-aged man who was so diligent about attending. He worked a full-time night shift job, cared for his wife who has major health issues and would still get to morning class having had little sleep. Unfortunately, he is not back this year. I think carrying the full load of working and caring for his wife got to be all he could handle.”

Sadly we have seen this situation more than once in our endeavors, our students lead complicated lives, and many times these complications come in the way of their progress. More often than not, the students do return to our classes and continue their education. (Read Ana’s story here) We hope to see Sainvilus return and keep working on his dreams.

When asked about her overall experience teaching at Project Light, Deborah mentioned the perks of working with adult students.

“ My overall experience as a volunteer teacher at Project Light has been a good one. I’ve always enjoyed helping others learn. And I enjoy meeting new people—students and staff. When I taught school, I taught children. Now I’m teaching adults and using many of the same skills. With adults, I don’t have discipline problems, and I don’t have to deal with the parents! (smile)”

Five years of volunteering with our non-profit definitely had an impact on Deborah’s outlook on life and her community.

“Project Light has raised my consciousness more about what resources this community has (or doesn’t have) to help people, who migrate to the U.S., to assimilate. They want the same things we want—a happy life enjoying family and friends; to be gainfully employed to provide for the family; an education for themselves and children; good health care, etc.”

Lastly, I had to ask if she would recommend this experience to anyone, and her answer was unequivocal YES!

“Yes! I would recommend Project Light to someone looking for a volunteer opportunity. In fact, I’m always talking about Project Light to any and everyone I think might be interested.”

Updated: Aug 23

-Ana's Immigration Story-

December 2016, Ana Lopez Veliz hugs her mom tightly before embarking on a life changing bus ride. She’s only 18 and has started nursing school in Guatemala, but she has no choice, gang members have been harassing her and her family. She has a long trip ahead, on a bus full of strangers with the same goals and aspirations; to seek safety and freedom in the land of opportunities. Several weeks and many hotel stays later the bus reaches the San Diego border. Ana is taken into custody in California, where she will spend her next 30 days, sleeping on cots in a room full of other women ages 18 to 30. The women are fed frozen burritos slid through the bottom of the door to their cell. Some of them have already been here for months, but they hold hope that one day they can enjoy the freedoms they so deserve.

Ana turns 19 on the very first day she is in custody at the border. There are no birthday presents, no birthday cake but she considers herself lucky. Before Christmas, she has her hearing and is released to her uncle in California where she can celebrate Christmas as a free person! Her sister, Erika joins them and they are united once again for a very short time. After spending Christmas with her uncle in California, Ana is about to reunite with her sister Erika in Florida. They only met once before in their hometown in Guatemala when Erika received her paperwork to travel outside the US. Ana was only 17 years old when she called her older sister in America, to help her escape the gangs that were threatening her life. In January 2017 Ana arrived in Bradenton, Florida, and was also reunited with their sister Delmy. Ana feels safe for the first time in a very long time but it is not easy in a land where you do not speak English or understand the culture. Ana takes the only job she can, working in the kitchen of a restaurant as a food prep worker. It is here that she understands the very importance of learning English in order to better herself and give back to a community that has given her freedom. Erika introduces her to Project Light Language School where she can take affordable English courses. Soon after, Ana decides to move into her own place, she finds herself working two jobs while continuing her English classes, but things quickly become overwhelming as work hours start to overlap with school. It doesn’t seem right that she must now choose between work and English classes but it is a choice she must now make. She starts at a new English school, but it is slow and expensive; however, it fits into her schedule. Ana is determined to not give up!

This is where Ana’s journey with Project Light begins again. Ana was able to secure one job where she was making the same amount of money as her two jobs. Her schedule allows her to return to Project Light Language School and Ana quickly moves up in the language levels. Ana is now in level four classes that she attends in the evening, giving her the space to work around her job’s schedule. She has also started her path towards citizenship and is looking forward to taking our citizenship classes while actively working on her dream to be a nurse.

Ana’s second oldest sister, Delmy has also recently enrolled in Project Light classes, so she can advance her English language proficiency and access more opportunities. Erika continues on her journey to read and write proficiently. Today, all three Veliz sisters take classes at Project Light Language School and they continue to inspire their fellow students, the staff, and all of us at Project Light.