March 10, 2019 at 5:32 pm

Alumni News | Flores Helps Those in Need, Tells Their Stories

Samantha Flores poses for a portrait in Ellis Hall on Feb. 1, 2019.

Samantha Flores in Ellis Hall. Photo by Hannah Ruhoff

When thinking back on her days as a student at OHIO, Samantha Flores (’08, ’11) recalls walking with friends at The Ridges at night, singing around a bonfire while a classmate strummed a guitar.

She also recalls with fondness the courses she took for her B.A. in English and, later, for her TEFL certificate, noting that her coursework prepared her for a career that she couldn’t have imagined at the time.

Flores works at Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio, where she optimizes a network of more than 160 hunger-relief programs in a four-county region. She is learning and actively applying human-centered service design principles to reimagine food distributions.

She began her nonprofit career by serving for two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA assigned to the Ohio Benefit Bank project, a project that makes it easier for people to sign up and receive federal food and tax assistance. After her years of service, Flores spent five years in South Korea teaching English to a wide variety of children and adults.

AmeriCorps Service, Advocacy, and Food Banking

After graduating, Flores learned about AmeriCorps Vista, which she describes as “a domestic version of the Peace Corps, where people dedicate themselves to a year of service to a nonprofit such as a food bank, Habitat for Humanity, or literacy program.”

Eager to make a tangible difference in community and the lives of others, Flores joined AmeriCorps Vista for a two-year stint and began working with the Ohio Benefit Bank in 2008.

“I helped connect people to social assistance programs such as SNAP, tax filing services, and childcare help. This was at the start of the recession, and many people were reaching out for help for the first time. These people wanted to articulate their stories, and I realized that there’s a lot of power in recording their narratives. This work has informed everything I’ve done since,” Flores explains.

Flores parlayed her professional network and connections into a job at the Cleveland Food Bank, where her community outreach involved “having my boots on the ground and recording people’s stories.” In this role, she helped the organization’s advocacy team develop these narratives into official documentation, which they then passed on to state legislatures.

“Advocacy takes root in effective communication,” she states, noting that her English degree helped her develop the skills she needed to advocate for and relay the stories of people in need.

Teaching in South Korea

In seeking fresh ways to help others, Flores learned about the TEFL program at OHIO and returned in the summer of 2011 to earn her certificate. Here, she learned about an opportunity to teach English in South Korea.

“I’d never traveled internationally before, but I took the plunge and signed up for a one-year contract to teach kindergarten in Seoul,” she explains.

To Flores’s surprise, she thrived in her new environment, and her one-year teaching stint turned into a five-year teaching career in South Korea.

“During that time, I taught elementary and early high school. With early high schoolers, I helped them articulate their stories, which was very satisfying. I did some additional teaching on the side, mostly helping professionals prepare documents. I was able to learn about so many different industries, especially fashion and cosmetics. I helped professionals prepare for fashion shows and meetings in New York,” she states.

After five years, Flores was contacted by the Second Harvest Food Bank, located near Lorain, Ohio. She has served the four-county area around Lorain for almost two years, where she works with many smaller nonprofits.

“A lot of my job involves not only grant-writing but also articulating the stories of the people we serve. I also assist other nonprofits in taking stock of where their programs are at and where they want them to be. In a nonprofit organization, good writing is necessary and appreciated,” she explains.

Not ‘Just a Girl from Ohio’

Throughout her career and various occupations, Flores has realized the breadth and depth of her English coursework and the quality education she received.

“In South Korea, I attended a BitCoin conference and talked with the conference organizer. He said that most people who are new to the technology and development world have a background in the humanities. The people who are most successful aren’t strictly technical in their skills,” she recalls.

The key to applying one’s English degree most effectively is to reject the belief that a degree in the humanities is restrictive.

“When I was in Korea, the phrase I constantly used in conversation was ‘I’m just a girl from Ohio,’ but I eventually began to realize that I was limiting myself and my potential with those words. Don’t let others limit you, and don’t limit yourself!”

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