Meet Nelly Moreno Shenk, the programs manager at Skyline Literacy, a program that dedicates itself to teaching the most basic literacy skills to those who need it in the Rockingham County area.
“My skill is organizing people,” said Shenk. “In any space I’m in, I organize people, mediate and write and organize projects.”
Originally from San Salvador, the capitol city of El Salvador, Shenk met her husband Harold Shenk while working with FASTRAS, an organization working to receive Salvadoran refugees that had ended up in Honduras and Nicaragua during the Salvadoran Civil War.
The couple met in 1989 and were married three years later. Harold was the director for a Mennonite Central Committee group working in the area at the same time. Soon after, the two started their family and looked to the future.
After 13 years in El Salvador, they found themselves in Harrisonburg, VA.
“It wasn’t too difficult coming to live here,” said Shenk. “We had been back and forth while we lived in El Salvador, and working with MCC I got to understand some of the North American Culture.”
The biggest challenge Shenk faced was the language barrier. Upon arrival, Shenk committed herself to learning the language.
“Working as a professional, none of us want to make mistakes while we’re working,” she said. Shenk had studied economics and acquired a master’s degree in business while living in El Salvador. “I learned to be more humble and be okay with making mistakes, especially when speaking English. I can identify with those that come to the area and face similar challenges that I faced.”
Shenk finds herself in many space where she can flex her organizational abilities. She is one of the cofounders of the Comité Salvadoreño Paisanos Unidos, an organization that works with the Latino community in the area. The group brings Latino communities together, whether they be Mexican or El Salvadoran, and keeps them informed in things such as labor and immigration rights.
Through COSPU, she is also organizing the Hispanic Festival in Harrisonburg. The Hispanic Festival brings over 2000 people in the community to celebrate Latino heritage and involve Hispanics in local politics.
Shenk is also an organizer in The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, which is a Union that represents members working in food retail, department stores, food processing, service and other industries in the VA and the surrounding states.
Specifically, she is looking at workers who suffer injuries in the workplace and do not receive compensation for their injuries. The Local 400 sends their representatives along with the injured employee to ensure compensation. As of now, Shenk is working primarily in the Latino community, but is expanding into the broader community.
Shenk works closely with the New American Consultative Council, a council that consists immigrants and refugees from all around the world who have come together to be a voice for the immigrant community in Rockingham county, one of the key communities responsible in the push towards making Harrisonburg a “Welcoming America” city.
Lastly, she is one of the members of a group called Latinos del Valley, a group of Latinos in the area that came together after election day to support one another as well as start a conversation about the rights of immigrants and the possibility that they may change in the future. This group is relatively new, but has already started meeting with representatives in the area to improve access to immigrant rights information in the area.
“I love working with grassroots organizations” said Shenk. “I want to help those who have had similar experiences to me here.”
– Liesl Graber