When Berta Weyenberg was 30, she left her native Cuba with her young sons, Juan and Felix, to begin a new life in the United States. Her older brother, Dr. Juan Polo came to Louisville in 1995 through the U.S. lottery visa program. Berta was chosen through the lottery the following year, and she and her sons joined Juan in December 1996.
One year after arriving in Louisville, Berta, who had worked in education in Cuba, began her career at Jefferson County Public Schools as a bilingual teacher and now, more than 20 years later, serves as an English As A Second Language (ESL) Intake Center Coordinator.
Describe the work you do for JCPS.
I work directly with families whose primary language is something other than English. I find out what the family needs and tell them what options are open to them — not just through school but community resources as well — to help them adjust to life in the U.S. I tell families, I was just like you. I’ve been exactly where you are now, and you can make it.
You volunteer with several organizations. How did you begin your volunteer work?
It was really through my role at JCPS that I started. I would make home visits to families and see the needs in the community. The challenges they were facing were the same ones I faced with my own kids when we came here. I began working with refugee agencies like Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Catholic Charities, and La Casita Center to help families adapt to the American culture and learn how to be more self-sufficient. Many have nothing and are used to having very little, so they don’t understand how to budget their money. They need help learning the basics.
As President of the Cuban American Association of Kentucky, what did you and the association do to help families during the pandemic?
We began delivering meals to families in need starting in late March 2020. For 13 consecutive Saturdays we would go to Hispanic neighborhoods around the city and set up at local businesses willing to host us. Needy families would come to us and we’d give them bags with essentials like chicken, beans, rice, canned goods, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. When no one else had toilet paper, we did! We also gave out diapers and wipes and tried to meet the needs of all those who came to us. We received food and monetary donations every week, and local businesses opened their doors to help.
You are passionate about volunteering. What do you say to those considering it?
The needs are everywhere. Don’t let language be a barrier. If you don’t speak the language but want to help, do it. We have many opportunities at JCPS. Go to the principal at your local school and tell them you want to volunteer. There is plenty of work to do. We can all do something.
By Kym Voorhees Raque | Photo by Patti Hartog