From Paraguay to Springfield Housing Authority
She’s a long way from her home in Asunción, Paraguay – 4,732 miles to be exact – but Maria Lourdes Pagan has found a new professional spot in the Rental Housing Assistance Office in Springfield.
Pagan, who is known in the office as Lourdes, her middle name, was hired in June as program specialist, working with residents on changes to their incomes and rents, and eventually will be trained to do other functions in the busy office.
So far, Pagan is very pleased with her new career.
“I love this job,” she said after one week in the office known as Section 8. “I love it because of the environment. The people here are great, so helpful and so nice.”
Pagan’s road from Paraguay to Springfield is a story of love, and of starting over.
She had earned a bachelor’s degree in legal students at Universidad Nacional de Asunción, owned a home, and was working as a paralegal in the Paraguay Department of Education when in 2009, she by chance met the man who would be her husband.
“I was sitting in a café with a friend, and he was there with some of his friends and he saw me from across the room and asked the waiter to take a picture of me,” she recalled with a smile.
That man was Eladio Pagan, a US Air Force pilot who was in Paraguay for military training exercises. He courted, they dated, and eventually, he wooed her to Springfield, where he was living while stationed at the Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee.
They married in 2011, and share a home here together now.
Pagan was happy but for one important thing. A professional woman who wanted a career, she knew very little English when she arrived here three years ago. A course at SHA’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program at the Deborah Barton Neighborhood Network Center got her off to a great start.
At the same time, she began watching television with the subtitles turned on. With pad in hand and computer nearby, she ‘read’ TV shows, turning to a computer translating application for words she didn’t know. She also practiced speaking English whenever possible, typically with her husband.
“I worked so hard to learn English,” she said. “I’m a person who has worked hard all of my life. I wanted to do something with myself here, and I knew I had to learn English to do that. I am still learning more every day.”
Pagan is fluent in Guarani, her native Indian language in Paraguay, Spanish, and has a good command of Portuguese. And now, she is well on her way to being fluent in English, meeting with Housing Choice Voucher recipients throughout her working day, and doing fine with that.
Program Director Blanca Berrios had high praise for Pagan.
“She’s working out just great. She’s picking up on things quickly. She’ll keep on training so she knows all aspects of working with clients,” said Berrios.
For Pagan, working in the Section 8 office is in many ways similar to her old job in Paraguay.
“I love working with people, and that’s what I’m doing here. I did this for 11 years in my old job, and I really like doing that,” she said.
“I’m just so happy to have this opportunity here. I want to do better and continue to grow professionally,” she added.