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Goodwill is Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month

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Did you know that approximately one in every six Americans is Hispanic? The 2010 U.S. Census counted the nation's Hispanic population at 50.5 million -- up more than 15 million from the 2000 Census. Our Hispanic population is diverse, active and growing fast. And for the month that runs from September 15 through October 15, many members of this culturally rich community will be celebrating their heritage as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month.

This diverse community has a vibrant history, a hard-working attitude and a dedication to family and building a prosperous new life in America. I think of people like Ivelisse Torres, who was born in New York and moved with her parents back to their native home of Puerto Rico when she was still a young child. She grew up, got married, and had two daughters with her husband, Juan Vazquez.

Ivelisse received an associate's degree in early childhood education, and she and Juan built a life for themselves and their daughters. Juan owned a jewelry store, and Ivelisse stayed home to raise their daughters. Tragically, when the girls were 9 and 3, Juan was killed in a car accident. Ivelisse recalls that she knew she had a decision to make, "[I could] be depressed all my life or move forward."

In May 2006, at 37, Ivelisse moved her family from Puerto Rico to Georgia -- where her mother, two sisters, and other family members lived -- to start a new life. There, she turned to Goodwill to improve her English-language skills. She took an intensive English as a second language (ESL) course and began working in a Goodwill retail store. There, she practiced her English and helped communicate with Spanish-speaking shoppers. Goodwill recognized her hard work and determination to grow her career. After enhancing her skills, she earned a job as a bilingual career specialist at Goodwill Industries of the Southern Rivers (Columbus, GA), helping people find jobs in her community of Valdosta, GA.

She now helps people with limited English skills who are struggling to find work. She says her passion is helping other people, and she considers Goodwill a part of her family. She is now able to support her daughters, one of whom is in college, studying psychology and criminal justice; and the other, who is now in middle school and plays in the school band. Ivelisse is a role model for her daughters, demonstrating that perseverance pays off.

Despite the challenges she faced, she knew she had to persevere for her own good and for the sake of her children -- and she wasn't afraid to seek help.

Although Ivelisse's story is uniquely her own, it's not a completely uncommon tale for Goodwill. For more than 100 years, we've been helping people build better lives for themselves and strengthen their communities through the power of work. In 2012, Goodwill provided job training and career services to more than 218,000 people of Hispanic origin.

I hope you'll join me during Hispanic Heritage Month in celebrating the efforts of Ivelisse Torres and many others like her.