Genis Melandez-Delaney brings a rich, varied and productive background to her role as an interpreter at VIM.
She came to the US and settled in the Bronx with her family when she was 9 years old. She grew up and went to school there, eventually graduating from the Bronx campus of Hunter College, now Lehman College. Genis has had a professional career – either as a hands-on instructor or as an administrator – that spans the educational spectrum from early childhood to adult education to college level instruction. From a preschool in Brooklyn to the Directorship of Principals at Bank Street College; as a Coordinator of Bilingual Education programs in Brooklyn, to supervising a program for NYC educational advisors and instructors; from the Principal of PS 151 in the NYC school system, to Director of Communication Arts, to Deputy Director of the Office of Bilingual Education in the NYC Department of Ed., to a Visiting Lecturer position at the State University of NY at Albany.
From the Bronx to the Berkshires…no matter what her environment, Genis Melandez-Delaney has made use of skills gained over her lifetime to help others.
And how does Genis’ past relate to her work at VIM? As one of VIM’s valued interpreters, Genis continues to make use of her native language as she works with Mental Health clinicians at VIM.
“As a Mental Health interpreter my role is pretty straight forward –it’s a position where you have to be very careful because you can’t exceed the boundaries…you have to understand that all you do is interpret…you can’t change, or probe, or ask for clarification – that’s the job of the therapist – they have the training. I have never been an interpreter before. I used my language skills a lot in my various jobs, but to use it to speak on behalf of another person – it’s a whole different ball game.
I’m very fortunate to have been assigned to Mental Health. First of all, I get to know the clients in a more intimate way. I see the same people week after week. I get to know people in depth. I admire the strength and resiliency of those who come from other countries under such hardships and are able to survive here. I also really admire the way VIM therapists have awesome respect for their patients.”
Looking back, Genis has great respect for her college experience at Hunter. “I was very fortunate to go there because I received an excellent education –it was part of the CUNY system – and very affordable. At Hunter I was told that there was no way I could become a teacher in NYC – there were two requirements that I couldn’t meet, one was my height (less than five feet), and the other was my accent…so I went into the School of Social Work at Hunter in downtown Manhattan.” While attending college Genis was working for the bureau of Child Welfare as a field investigator and was also teaching Spanish to nuns and priests and social workers. “I was taught a new method of teaching language which was totally oral. My teachers were two wonderful priests, Ivan Illich and Father Fox. These two men were so ahead of their time…not only in language education but also in understanding the teacher’s need to establish close relationships to the minority communities in which they were working”. Illich, an influential and controversial figure in education and politics in the 60’s, went on to found a language school in Mexico.
“Illich and Fox taught us pride in who we were as Puerto Ricans. This sense of pride was so important because at that time we were getting messages from the community that we Puerto Ricans weren’t worth much! That contact really had an impact on me as a young adult and ‘till this day – it was a wonderful experience. I made friends in this program that I stay in contact with even now. “
Genis returned to college to earn a degree in Early Childhood Education at Catholic University. “Teaching was my passion,” she recalls. She taught in the Upper Bronx and eventually in the South Bronx. This was in the 60’s with the advent of the anti-poverty programs – a time “when the world was changing. Being the only Hispanic person on the staff, I did other work besides teaching because of the need. We had to develop rapport with the community, and had to get involved in helping and supporting people as they moved on.” Genis worked with a group of welfare mothers who organized and educated themselves. “I have great admiration for those women. One was an amazing person who went on to become a New York State legislator. After 10 years of this intense work, although I loved it, I think I wore myself out.” She moved on to become an administrator in her field.
Genis and her husband Chet, who also volunteers at VIM – as a receptionist – have lived in Egremont full time for 8 years, and have volunteered at VIM for the last two years.
What does Genis find satisfying about volunteering? “You come here to do for others, but at the same time, of course you do for yourself. As you work with others you learn about yourself, you are questioning and learning. At my age, when I could be home with my plants, I am here with people in an environment that is stimulating – both because of the patients and the therapists, and also interactions with the staff. It affects your mind, it’s socially enriching, and intellectually stimulating. I would tell anyone who asks me – it’s definitely worth it. I love it.”