Sil Ganzo’s work is more important now than ever before. The 35-year-old is the executive director of ourBRIDGE, a Charlotte based non-profit that offers after-school and summer programs to newly arrived and first generation American children. They work with 100 families a year from 20 different cultures. Ganzo herself was born in Buenos Aires but moved to the Queen City more than 15 years ago. The mother of two is passionate about what she does but admits the work can be stressful and non-stop, and she recently realized the toll it was taking on her life. So she made some dramatic changes that we can all learn from. We’re excited to introduce you to Sil Ganzo, today’s FACE of Charlotte.
How did you end up in Charlotte?
After I finished high school, I started a communications major in the University of Buenos Aires, but quickly realized that it wasn’t what I imagined myself doing for a living. I started working full-time as a waitress and taking English, Italian and Portuguese classes, as I have always been fascinated by cultures and languages and really wanted to someday travel the world. Argentina was in the middle of a terrible crisis, so one morning, when someone in a corner handed me a flier that offered a chance to work and live in the United States, I did not think it twice. Five months later I was on a plane to Charlotte.
I met my husband Claudio just a month after I arrived, and we have been together ever since. Even though my dreams of traveling the world are on pause at the moment, I feel accomplished for what I have done here and love this city and its people.
How did ourBRIDGE get started?
I began working with the immigrant and refugee community in 2010, when I was hired as an administrative assistant for a new after-school program in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood neighborhood. That program was managed by a for-profit tutoring company and was primarily focused on refugee students. At that time, like many other Charlotte neighbors, I was not aware that Charlotte was the biggest refugee resettlement city in North Carolina, welcoming about 600 individuals per year. Refugees receive up to three months of financial support and guidance upon their arrival. The families we worked with were struggling to figure out how to start over in an unknown land, while learning English and working full-time. But what struck me the most was realizing that the children were losing their childhood in the process. In 2013, when the owners of the tutoring company decided to terminate the program, a group of volunteers and I, with help from parents, lawyers and community members, created ourBRIDGE to continue supporting these families.
What is the goal of the program?
Of course, we are here to help the children learn English and succeed in school, but beyond academics, we want to help every newly arrived and first generation child and their families to develop a sense of belonging to a community that welcomes them. We encourage them to feel proud of who they are and where they come from while acculturating to this wonderful country and making it their new home.
How has the current fight over immigration impacted the work you do?
We’ve been changing our strategies and programming. We went from academic and cultural awareness to adding a much bigger emotional component. We have therapists and counselors who volunteer to talk to our kids. We also work to give them a better understanding of how the government works and encourage them to get involved.
How do you separate your work from your personal life?
I’ve been going non-stop for the last seven-and-a-half-years, and I got very close to a breaking point. I realized I wasn’t dividing anything, everything was one big bowl of stress. It took me feeling physically sick and tired and realizing my demeanor was changing for me to stop. I took a couple of days off, which was hard because I’ve never done it. I just slept the entire day and realized I had to set boundaries because working at a non-profit is non-stop, 365 days a year, so I made drastic changes in my schedule.
I stopped checking my email on the weekend – it was hard but so liberating. I was at my kids’ soccer games, and I was missing the game – it was ridiculous. I also took off the notification when emails come in because it was going off constantly. Now, I decide when I check email on my phone.
I realized that by setting my own work boundaries, I have become more patient with the recipients of the emails I send. I do not expect an immediate response anymore! I feel we should all take care of each other by breaking this dangerous habit of working non-stop. Everything seems to go a thousand miles per hour all the time, and that is not okay, it is not healthy. I have also communicated to our full-time staff at the center that they are not expected to take work home. We work while at work. We love our jobs, but stress and the risk of burning out will damage every aspect of our lives if we don’t take control of them. Breath. Balance. Be.
There’s still a lot of stress with your job. How do you handle it?
Stress is a very dangerous thing so I’m trying to be better about finding balance. Spending time outside gardening and doing things that make me happy or just sitting down and watching a movie with my kids. There’s also nothing wrong with taking a nap!
What is your best advice?
There is always something more to learn – somewhere else to go, more people to meet. Never say “this is it.” There is always something more.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what three things can’t you live without?
Winter (I can’t stand long summers), Argentine drink — mate, and trying new things.
Thank you Sil for your admirable work and answering all of our questions! Thank you to Piper Warlick of Piper Warlick Photography for today’s fabulous photographs!
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