Meet Your Neighbor: Joel Urbaneja

"I grew up with strong family values ​​and the great examples of my mother and my brother. I’ve encountered the violence that any child may experience while living in a poor neighborhood in the capital of Venezuela. 

Those good values led me to college. While I was in college, I got into politics as part of the Student Movement in 2007 that led to the first electoral defeat of Hugo Chavez. That movement gave me so much hope for the future of my country. I thought our generation could reverse the national situation we were dealing with.

But in 2014, with the rise to power of Nicolas Maduro, the social and political situation was unsustainable. I was on the verge of losing everything I worked so hard to obtain. So, I went back to the streets to fight for our democracy. By the end of 2015, as a society we achieved the unthinkable. We won the National Assembly. Then, an official dictatorship resulted in the new national assembly being illegally stripped of all its power. I ended up in prison for protesting the injustice. When I was released, I continued to work with the community to restore our democracy. 

I arrived in the United States fleeing the threat posed by staying in Venezuela in November 2016. When I moved to Corona, my wife was looking for a place where she can learn English, and a friend of hers told her about Queens Community House (QCH). While she was attending the English course, I offered to be a volunteer for the ESOL program. 

It´s hard for one person to leave it all behind and start over in a new country without any family, without knowing the language, and not having a job, a place to live, and food to eat. These are conditions that for most people find really hard to overcome. QCH is all about giving us immigrants a chance.   

With QCH, I’ve done work for the Meals on Wheels Program, Census Outreach, and I’ve been involved with the Action Group. At QCH, I found a place where I can continue to do community work and give a hand to those who need it most. Also, I no longer feel alone in this country because I can count on them."

- Joel Urbaneja, QCH’s Meals on Wheels Program Worker, QCH Action Group Member, QCH Census Outreach Worker 

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