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CMAA is Our Community: Welcoming Harika to the Team


Harika Pratapa and her two young sons first came from India to the US in 2016 following her husband’s move in 2015 under a working visa. Her family moved alone without friends or extended family to help them adjust to life in Chicago. Not yet confident in her English, Harika was hesitant to explore and socialize in her neighborhood. Slowly though, over months, she worked through her nervousness by first exploring parks and then attending community events where she met new friends. Everyday tasks like navigating medical appointments, going to the grocery store, and speaking with teachers, however, continued to prove difficult because her accent was not understood by many people. One of her friends noticed the challenges Harika and her family were facing and recommended that she reach out to CMAA–just a few minutes walk away from her home–for support. 


By 2019, Harika had enrolled in CMAA’s English classes to advance her language skills, in addition to CMAA’s Healthcare Employment Preparation Program to gather healthcare knowledge that would lead to new job prospects. Her English instructor, Jennifer Yonan, invited Harika to bring her one-year-old son to classes, making it possible for her to regularly attend the classes and pursue her English education. One of Harika’s favorite class moments was learning new ways to call foods delicious: scrumptious, savory, yummy. As a lover of good food, these words expanded her ability to express herself and describe flavors in new ways. Attending CMAA’s classes also expanded her sense of community as she was able to meet, support, and receive advice from others who were experiencing similar challenges. Being able to laugh, share, learn, support, and commiserate with each other about shared and diverse immigrant experiences helped Harika feel a sense of place among her fellow classmates. 


In 2020, Harika encountered visa problems and returned to India where she awaited her next opportunity to move back to the US. Finally, in 2023, Harika and her two sons moved back to Chicago. Harika immediately returned to CMAA and enrolled in an employment readiness workshop to help her secure a job. CMAA staff helped Harika prepare for job interviews as she worked to secure her work authorization permit. Finally, with her work permit in hand, Harika contacted CMAA’s Transitions team. CMAA’s Transitions team specializes in providing one-on-one support to individuals who want to find jobs, enroll in certification programs, or gain more education. CMAA’s Senior Coordinator of Transitions, Tim Parzyck, met regularly with Harika to find job opportunities that she wanted to pursue. Despite having robust and highly skilled work experience in India, she struggled to find a sustainable job. When a new position at CMAA opened for a Board Liaison and Administrative Assistant, Tim told Harika that she would be a perfect fit. Working together with Tim, Harika applied for the position and received an opportunity to interview. Harika quickly began working with CMAA’s Transitions Case Manager, Htar Nadi, who helped her prepare for the interview. Using all the hard work she had put into improving her English, developing a strong resume, and practicing for her interview, Harika excelled in her interview–she was offered the job. After four years of participating in CMAA programs and two moves to the US, Harika now works as CMAA’s Board Liaison and Administrative Assistant, helping the organization support other immigrant and refugee families. 


Harika and her two sons are integral parts of the CMAA family and have been for years. First, as a participant in CMAA classes and now as a staff member, Harika has continued to make CMAA stronger. Her two sons are now also part of the CMAA family as members of the afterschool Diverse Young Leaders program and summer camp, where they are able to socialize with and learn from other youth from immigrant families. 


Resilient, brilliant, and talented community members like Harika and her family are the reason CMAA continues to improve and grow. CMAA is able to support our communities because the CMAA family is our community.

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