Claudia Bejarano jumped into her dual-position serving both the Office of Hispanic Ministry and Catholic Charities of Louisville with both feet last summer.
Her newly-created position — Hispanic services coordinator — is designed to make social services and programs operated by community partners more accessible to the Hispanic community in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
She works closely with Eva Gonzalez, director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, and Deacon Lucio Caruso, director of mission at Catholic Charities.
Gonzalez said the collaborative efforts between the agencies has been essential to improve the lives of the people they serve. “Both the social and religious context are important for human development. Having a full-time person has been an asset for the work of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, we now can look more closely to those particular social needs in the community and provide guidance, make referrals and meet the need,” Gonzales said.
In her short time serving the Hispanic community in the archdiocese, Bejarano has primarily worked on distributing funds Catholic Charities received from the Louisville Metro COVID Relief Fund, nearly $24,000.
The funds assisted 46 individuals in 21 households with critical items such as rent and mortgage assistance and water, electricity, Internet and medical bills, she said. Clients are primarily referred to her through Catholic Charities and local parishes.
“In a lot of ways, I feel like I’m helping the people my mom and I used to be when I was younger. The help we asked for, I’m now able to give to others. It takes me out of my own body and mind and it’s something I reflect on,” she said.
Bejarano was born in Cuba and came to the United States at age 7. She first lived in Miami but has called Louisville home since she was 11. She attended Bellarmine University, where she majored in political science and also studied international relations and foreign language. At Bellarmine, she was involved in a university program called Pioneer Scholars for first-generation college students that she described as a “really big part of my college experience.”
Deacon Caruso said the Hispanic services coordinator position has been in the works for a number of years. He and Gonzalez have worked closely together to identify the needs within both agencies, as well as with parish leaders throughout the archdiocese and the Hispanic communities they serve.
“During COVID, she really has acted as a social worker dispersing funds to families in Jefferson County in a very concrete way,” he said. “We hope in the coming year she can work on meeting the needs of families in counties beyond Jefferson, where there are hubs of our Latino brothers and sisters.”
Caruso also noted that as part of her position, Bejarano will also guide new arrivals from Mexico and Central America, much like the staff of Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services does with newly-arrived refugees.
“It’s designed as a cultural orientation, teaching them about daily life, transportation, banking, public schooling,” he said. “The beauty is, we have all the resources in place with MRS to draw from.”
Though only 23 years old, Bejarano sees her role as a full circle moment in her life. After she received her degree from Bellarmine, she applied, was accepted and was preparing to leave for a Peace Corps assignment in Mozambique when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Since middle school, I’ve always been interested in international relations. For a long time I’ve wanted to focus on helping people in an international sense, not being constricted to country borders or by the ethnicity of people. I’ve always been interested in the world and helping people no matter where they are in the world,” she said.
The pandemic has hampered Bejarano’s efforts, but she is determined to broaden her reach this year. She plans to continue her work utilizing additional grant monies to assist Hispanic families outside Jefferson County who are struggling with rent and mortgage payments.
If all goes well, she’s eager to develop a new career- and college-readiness program for high school students and their families later this year. She hopes to start the pilot program at Holy Name Church on South Third Street, adjacent to Catholic Charities.
“Parents who come from the Hispanic community often don’t know how the education system works in the U.S., both high school and higher education. I want to show them, it’s not as hard as they think it is,” she said.
“I want students to understand they don’t necessarily have to do what their parents are doing. It may not mean going to college. There are a lot of careers that require certificate training. There are so many options,” she added.
Bejarano can be reached at the Office of Hispanic Ministry at 290-4247 or email@example.com.