ELLENTON — Luz Cooper came to Colquitt County as an immigrant and, finding opportunities here that she did not have before, wants to give back to the community that has helped her.

“I would not think twice about helping the community. I am the Colquitt County creation,” she said smiling.

Cooper is from Veracruz, Mexico, and came here to work in 1999 on the H2A visa program. She said language was her biggest barrier and she was scared because she did not understand.

“It was like I was blind. ... I was glad to find the Ellenton Clinic with the ESL classes,” she said.

She said the clinic was offering the classes through the Children Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR) program.

“So, I started to study with them,” she said.

She worked in the fields for five years and would try to stay awake at night to study her English, she said.

Cooper said the teachers encouraged her to continue her education and she was able to take her G.E.D. in English.

“That is something I always wanted to do. After I took my G.E.D., I was ready to take the next step,” she said.

She enrolled in Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and after taking one more class, she will enroll in the nursing program, she said. She also said that nursing was something she had wanted to do since she was a little girl.

“It’s great that I have the opportunity to do it here. ... My good luck continued. I was a CYFAR child,” she said with a laugh.

She was offered a job with the CYFAR program, which assisted the families that are at risk, she said.

“Families have little control over that,” she said.

The program, which was discontinued in June of this year, took information to those families on crime prevention, child abuse, health, hygiene and home buyers information.

“I’ve seen a great improvement in these families,” she said.

She said they were more conscious about their health and how to take care of their children. She said she has seen a lot of good things happen because of the program.

Cooper has also been working with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP.) She said it focuses on teaching families how to prepare meals that are nutritious, cheap, easy and fast.

“Better snacks for children and better food options for pregnant women,” she added.

She said she has always thought about helping people and she wanted to give back to the community what she had received.

“Now, I want to share this with other people. ... I feel that I have a lot to give back,” she said.

She said all the time that she has lived in Colquitt County, the people have been so nice and helpful. She said people like Cynthia Hernandez, Debbie Purvis and now Andrea Scarrow have been important to her life.

“Mrs. Cynthia has been there for me since I came to the United States,” she said.

Among her other achievements, Cooper is also a graduate of Leadership Georgia and is a facilitator for Emerging Leaders, a local leadership program.

She said the favorite part of her job was being with people, working with them one-to-one and being able to meet their needs with the programs available. She said when she sees how her families have changed, it gives her a sense of empowerment.

“That motivates you a lot. No matter how many hours you spend with them. Just keep going,” she said.

She said she has seen much improvement over the years in the conditions of the families she works with. She believed that lack of information was the biggest part of the problem. She said she wants to teach people what she has learned.

“We teach about 30 or 40 families each year,” she said.

She said the program will expand to about 75 families per year.

She said she remembered how it had been to work in the fields — especially in the extremes of hot, cold and wet. She said she would have cuts on her hands from nicking herself while cutting greens and still has some scars to remind her.

“Now that I’m here, I think about them and how hard it is for them,” she said.

She said she didn’t think the people who created the programs she worked for really realized “how wonderful” they were and how much they changed people’s lives. Cooper, who was a past client of these programs and is now a facilitator of these programs, seems to be a testament to that.

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