HCC helps immigrant students find new lives

  • HCC graduates Andres Martinez, left, of Venezuela, and Lisa Ladas, of Guyana, pose for a portrait on campus Tuesday at Holyoke Community College.

  • Holyoke Community College graduates Andres Martinez, right, of Venezuela, and Lisa Ladas, of Guyana, pose for a portrait on campus Tuesday. DAN LITTLE

  • HCC graduates Andres Martinez, right, of Venezuela, and Lisa Ladas, of Guyana, pose for a portrait on campus Tuesday at Holyoke Community College.

  • HCC graduates Andres Martinez, left, of Venezuela, and Lisa Ladas, of Guyana, pose for a portrait on campus Tuesday at Holyoke Community College.

  • HCC graduates Andres Martinez, right, of Venezuela, and Lisa Ladas, of Guyana, pose for a portrait on campus Tuesday at Holyoke Community College.

  • HCC graduate Andres Martinez, of Venezuela, poses for a portrait on campus Tuesday at Holyoke Community College.

  • HCC graduate Andres Martinez, of Venezuela, shows off his Venezuelan sash on campus Tuesday at Holyoke Community College.

  • HCC graduate Lisa Ladas, of Guyana, poses for a portrait on campus Tuesday at Holyoke Community College.

  • HCC graduate Lisa Ladas, of Guyana, shows off her decorated mortar board with the flag of Guyana Tuesday at Holyoke Community College.

  • HCC graduate Andres Martinez, of Venezuela, poses for a portrait on campus Tuesday at Holyoke Community College.

  • HCC graduate Andres Martinez, of Venezuela, poses for a portrait on campus Tuesday at Holyoke Community College.

  • Holyoke Community College graduates Andres Martinez, left, of Venezuela, and Lisa Ladas, of Guyana, pose for a portrait on campus Tuesday. DAN LITTLE

  • HCC graduate Lisa Ladas, of Guyana, poses for a portrait on campus Tuesday at Holyoke Community College.

  • HCC graduates Andres Martinez, left, of Venezuela, and Lisa Ladas, of Guyana, pose for a portrait on campus Tuesday at Holyoke Community College.

@DHGCrosby
Published: 5/31/2016 2:51:11 PM

HOLYOKE — Lisa Ladas and Andres Martinez immigrated to the U.S. over two decades ago, but their quest to find a better future didn’t end there.

After receiving yet another set of keys to that future Saturday at Holyoke Community College’s commencement, Ladas and Martinez are more confident than ever about what lies ahead.

“I got in and then my life changed incredibly,” said Martinez of his acceptance to HCC.

Both students graduated with honors and two associate’s degrees each. Similarly, they both plan to attend University of Massachusetts Amherst in the fall.

Lisa Ladas

Ladas, 48, who now lives in South Hadley, received degrees in liberal arts science and foundations of health.

In 1986 her family left Guyana, South America, hoping for better economic opportunity. Ladas, who said Guyana is a very poor country, is the oldest of five children.

“I had no money, no car and had to start working right away,” she said, adding that she took one night class here and there during that time. “Then I got married, and the kids came and I stopped school.” Ladas has since divorced.

Over the years that followed, she worked jobs such as event specialist and actress, in addition to a slew of volunteer work. All the while, she yearned to broaden her horizons.

In 2011, Ladas said she “came back to college full force,” beginning with HCC’s foundations of health program. She studied during the day and worked the overnight shift as a certified nurse assistant for Wingate Nursing Home in South Hadley.

“Did I ever get sleep?” Ladas asked. “I don’t think so.”

She’d originally planned to pursue a medical career, but realized part-way through college that the accompanying science and math required for advancing in that field wasn’t “her cup of tea.”

What she didn’t plan on exploring during her collegiate studies — a career in communications — has now become her main focus.

A professor connected her with HCC’s radio station, WCCH 103.5 FM, where she produced and hosted a Caribbean-blend show, interviewing musicians, actors and actresses and political candidates.

“I didn’t believe something so small would get so big,” she said, adding that the show quickly drew a large audience. “When I have the mic I’m a different character.”

Ladas currently volunteers as a radio member for Springfield Technical Community College’s WTCC 90.7 FM and Wesleyan University’s WESU 88.1 FM. In the past she volunteered for Busy Radio 103.3 FM based in Hartford, Conn.

Furthering her career plans, Ladas has been officially accepted to continue her education in UMass’ communications program.

“When I am communicating I am so much brighter, happier and have a passion for it,” she said. “I don’t have to struggle with it; it’s a natural thing for me.”

She said HCC transformed her into who she is right now by laying a solid foundation, opening up appropriate career pathways and building her leadership skills.

“It gave me a place within myself that I could become better,” she said.

Last Wednesday Ladas received a Green Key Honor Society Award and a Joyce Agnoli Transfer Award, a $300 award for a student enrolled through HCC’s New Directions program who will also attend a four-year school.

Asked about Saturday’s commencement, Ladas began to cry.

“Walking across that stage my shoulders are going to be so high, my head is going to be so high, because I earned what I have in my hand,” she said prior to the ceremony. “I’m in glee; I’m in joy.”

Andres Martinez

Andres Martinez, 54, who now lives in Holyoke, has earned degrees in hospitality management, as well as visual art and photography.

Martinez left behind family members and friends in Venezuela in 1993 to start a new life in what he calls “a safer country.”

“My life was basically in dangers because of a lot of political problems,” he said. Before leaving the country he was studying law at the Central University of Venezuela, which he said shut down because of political revolution within the school that challenged the safety of the students.

In 2010, Martinez began an ESL program at HCC after studying English through various programs and volunteer work.

He eventually began studying full-time through a program that helps students go back to school.

“I think I’m blessed to be in this school because not many of my people can get out,” he said of his experience in Venezuela. “Everybody is basically locked up in their own houses because the crime is so bad.”

He feels that knowledge is power and his education has provided him with the opportunity to move up in this country.

Martinez said he has applied to transfer to UMass’ Isenberg School of Management in the fall, but has not yet been officially accepted. He said the college requested an official transcript from the Venezuelan university he attended, which had reopened after Martinez left but is currently closed again due to a widespread faculty strike.

Despite the difficulty he faces in obtaining those documents, Martinez is confident he will get in.

“It’s hard, but it’s not impossible,” he said. “When you want something, you will do whatever it takes.”

Martinez also received a Green Key Honor Society Award, as well as a $150 Hospitality Management Award.

“I feel like I’m a sponge absorbing all good things,” he said about his education thus far. “The campus is so diverse and I’m learning from people who have incredible skills and knowledge.”

In the future, he hopes to open a small deli or a food truck, and is currently working on writing a book with recipes from Venezuela and the United States. He also keeps a daily journal, because he doesn’t want to forget how hard life has been for him for so many years.

“It’s never too late to finish this step,” he said. “To be able to wake up and say I made it and see what’s next ... that’s basically amazing.”

Sarah Crosby can be reached at scrosby@gazettenet.com.




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