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Meet SBEC Program Participants

Elsa Teklay

Elsa Teklay (right) with teacher Mary Lou McCall at SBEC

Eritrean immigrant Elsa Teklay (right, with her former teacher, Mary Lou McCall) lives happily and productively today in Erie with her husband and two sons. This has not always been the case, however. Elsa tells a story of separation and isolation, hard work and determination.

Work was scarce in war-torn Eritrea and Elsa’s husband went to England for employment to support his family. Elsa was six months pregnant with their first child at the time. When the opportunity arose, Elsa and her child emigrated to the US where she navigated a new culture by herself. Three years later, her husband was able to join them.

For the past 4 years, Elsa has worked full time at UPMC Hamot in the housekeeping department. Her husband is a nursing student at Penn State Behrend. Together they work very hard to create a solid future for themselves and their boys. “I am a tough girl. I will do whatever it takes.”

Elsa found her way to SBEC where she worked with staff member Mary Lou McCall. “I remember Elsa as being very brave and determined. She faced many challenges yet diligently applied herself to all aspects of the program. Her desire to work was never in question. Once her language skills improved, we were able to enthusiastically recommend her for employment.”

On a recent visit to SBEC, Ms. McCall welcomed Elsa to her current class of refugees. She asked Elsa how much English she knew when she arrived. The answer, of course, was “none!” It was a moment of inspiration for those in the room now dealing with the challenges Elsa once faced.

Elsa enjoys her work at UPMC Hamot. When asked about future aspirations, Elsa said that she would like to return to school when her husband finishes. Her goal is to be a personal care assistant. When asked if there was anything more she wanted to say, Elsa responded - somewhat emotionally – “SBEC found me a job and now my family and I have a good life. Thank you.”