Educational program lifts up immigrant women and their families

May 14, 2019

Women, attending AMSIF classes at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, finish a beautification project for the church yard. They repainted a sculpture of Our Lady, planted roses and installed pavers. Father Miguel Solorzano, pastor of St. Charles, and Houston City Councilwoman Karla Cisneros thank the women and Avenue Inc., a nonprofit which donated materials, as part of the women’s final AMSIF project. Photo courtesy of AMSIF.

HOUSTON — Brenda Valadez, a parishioner from St. Dominic Catholic Church in east Harris County by Sheldon Lake, said she suffered from depression despite adoring her baby girl. 

She didn’t feel like doing anything and wouldn’t take care of herself until she made herself attend classes at her church sponsored by an educational program known in Spanish as the Asociacion Mexicana de Superacion Integral de la Familia (Mexican Association of Integral Improvement of the Family or AMSIF).

“Now I’m even taking the beauty workshop about hair and makeup. It helps me feel much better about myself,” she said.

Valadez will be joining about 1,000 Hispanic immigrant women May 24 who will be congratulated by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo for participating in AMSIF classes that teach English, spiritual development, self-esteem, health exams and other topics.

The crowd will also applaud 217 women graduating from the five-year program. AMSIF was founded by a group of Catholic laywomen in Mexico more than 40 years ago.

AMSIF was introduced to the Houston-Galveston area in 2013 through the Archdiocese Office of Hispanic Ministry. Now more than 1,000 Houston-area women participate and meet at 26 Catholic churches as “Advancement Family Centers” in the Archdiocese.

First starting in Houston at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, the program has quickly expanded and now St. Leo the Great Catholic Church and Prince of Peace Catholic Church have some of the largest groups of participants.

The program was introduced to help immigrant women achieve freedom and hope in both their spiritual and daily lives, organizers said. Every week, volunteer facilitators meet with participants and provide training in areas including applying the Gospel in everyday life, improving family communication, time management, cooking and nutrition, personal and family health, arts and crafts, and basic computer skills. 

Facilitator Elena Agostini said, “Many of these women beforehand felt like they had no value or rights. The impact of this program is amazing because it helps the women become closer to God and enables them to be more understanding and caring towards their families.” 

Agostini, along with AMSIF Regional Coordinator Linda Maldonado, were among AMSIF women who traveled to Philadelphia in 2015 to see Pope Francis in his visit to the United States. In their white dresses with blue scarves, the group of women caught the eye of the pope and met him personally where he prayed over them for their association.

“The Pope and his prayer were very moving and gave us the incentive to continue our teaching,” Agostini said.

Maldonado said, “The AMSIF program looks to enable women in every aspect of their lives — spiritually, physically and socially. We strive for women to become their best version of women of God, as wives and mothers, and get involved in their parish and their community.”

“Our goal is to help families become Christ-centered where they can experience happiness and unity. We look to achieve this through our weekly meetings and program, but we always emphasize friendship and becoming a community of friends who can share everyday joys as well as hardships,” she said.

Lazaro Contreras, director of the Archdiocese Office of Hispanic Ministry which offers support to AMSIF, said, “We recently experienced the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry where ‘ministry to families’ was one of the ministerial areas for discussion. It placed great emphasis on the accompaniment of families and their children.”

He added, “In our local Church, we feel very blessed for the resources provided to families through our pastoral offices, parishes and through organizations like AMSIF. The women grow and nurture themselves in these programs, sharing with their spouses and children at home. They receive the benefits of the new person they have become, thanks to the support of one another and the facilitators, their personal growth, and in particular, the personal relationship with Christ that they develop.”

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