Staff Spotlight: José Camargo
Each year, Children’s Council works with over 16,000 families to help secure safe, affordable child care. People often come to us with limited financial resources, speaking little or no English, without a support network, feeling frustrated and confused. Children’s Council Family Subsidy Specialist José Camargo knows – from firsthand experience – that at times like this, talking with an understanding, empathetic person is just as crucial as receiving assistance with forms and regulations.
José plays a key role in helping families overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges: it’s a job he is perfectly suited for.
Born and raised in Bucaramanga, Colombia, near the border of Venezuela, his grandparents taught José the importance of community. He says, “My grandfather was a construction worker, my grandma was a stay-at-home mom and their door was always open. They provided meals and support to anyone in need.”
José attended college in Bogotá, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in sports science and went on to a six-month coaching training program at Manuel Fagardo University of Sports and Education in Cuba. Through a program administered by the Colombia Ministry of Education, José spent five years teaching and traveling throughout his country, often to poor, remote villages. He says, “We taught children of every age – and sometimes adults – how to read and write. Some towns had never had permanent teachers; we had to organize communities and set up schools.”
Ultimately, José left his native country in 2013 to escape violence and moved to the U.S. in search of a better, more stable life. He contacted the only person he knew in the U.S. – a family friend in South San Francisco – who provided him with housing.
“I started taking classes three days after I arrived,” he says, “I could not speak English and I thought my degree had no value here.” José also connected with Upworthy Global, a support organization for immigrants with degrees trying to establish careers in the U.S. He worked as a manual laborer while keeping up with his studies, eventually landing jobs as a grocery store cashier and as a substitute teacher. In March 2015, he interviewed with Children’s Council and was offered a temporary position as a Family Subsidy Specialist. Only three months later, he was promoted to his current full-time position.
José finds his work very fulfilling: “About fifty percent of my cases are low-income Latino families. I tell them, ‘I understand what you’re feeling, I know your struggle, I was in your position.’ Recently I had the opportunity to help a single mom with four kids. When I told her she had secured child care, she cried and said, ‘I am so happy, this has been my dream for so long.’” José says, “I have had many people help me improve my life, it is very rewarding to do the same for others.”
Although José regularly speaks with his family by phone, it’s clear that he still greatly misses them. He says, “Sometimes I wish I could help my relatives when they need it, but I believe it is one of the reasons why I am here. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference…’ I feel like my life will be better by helping others.”