The Words of the La Hogue Family
Tony, Maria, Michael and Alisha La Hogue, CARP Winter Ball, 2011, Manhattan, NY.
Maria La Hogue is originally from Austria. She lives with her husband Tony and two children. She is currently working as a Paraprofessional at Francis Lewis High School. She is lives in Queens, New York.
Question: Can you tell me about where you work?
I work with challenged children at Francis Lewis High School in Queens, as an Educational Paraprofessional in the department of Instructional Support Services (ISS). There are about 4,300 children in the school, and about 400 of them are challenged children. I work one-on-one with these children, or together with a teacher and the children in a classroom setting. It's a very hands-on job.
Question: How did you get involved in your current job?
For 14 years, I was a social worker in Austria, and I worked with everyone from babies to adults. I was involved with schools and family matters, such as divorces and working with children. When something happened to a child in the district I worked in, I was called, would go talk to the parents and try to provide whatever was needed. Then I worked with the sick in the Department of Health in Vienna, and after I joined the Church, I worked in a nursery school for second generation Unificationists.
After I had my kids -- one son and one daughter -- in the United States, I wanted a job that would allow me to spend time with them. A job as a teacher gave me the same schedule as my children -- when they went to school, I went to school; when they came home, I came home; when they had vacation, I had vacation.
I worked first in a junior high school in 2001, when my son was 10 and my daughter was 8, for about a year and a half. During that time I worked specifically with an autistic boy from Germany. He only spoke German and I was hired to take care of and translate for him. When he went from junior high to high school, I was allowed to transfer with him, and through
I was introduced to the Francis Lewis High School. I stayed with this child from when he was 13 to 21 because I really wanted to help him. Now he works at the Queens Center for Progress, and nearly every day he comes and greets me and hugs me. Experiences like this make me want to continue working with challenged children.
Question: Were your children ever involved in your work?
They didn't work with the challenged children directly, but when they were younger they supported and helped me in the German classes that I taught to regular-education kids. Now my daughter is studying to work in ISS, so that's one way my work has influenced her.
Question: How is the program for challenged children structured at Francis Lewis?
These children first come to high school when they are about 15 years old. In a sheltered setting, I help prepare them for getting a job. They stay in the school until they are 21 years old, which is when they have to leave. I spend four periods out of the school day with them, during which we bring the kids to different places where we have programs for them to experience what it's like to work. These are places like T.J. Maxx or Toys "R" Us. Marathon High School, another school with a program for children with special needs. Often these children also have a chance to work in nursing homes, where they talk with the older population, watch TV with them, do arts and crafts with them and bring them joy. Many of the students are able to find jobs, and some of them even go into community college.
Question: What has your experience working with challenged children been like?
My job helps me become more patient because one needs a lot of patience when working with children with disabilities. Working in a supportive role for these children brings me a lot of joy, and I can see how they develop with the right care, how they can grow and become adults even with the obstacles they face. They have a lot of capacity to learn and a profound piece of my life is to help them and see how they can grow for the better.
Question: How has the support from the Unification Church community been? Do we need to raise awareness about meeting the needs of challenged children?
I cannot say that our school gets support from any church community. First of all, you cannot really mention religion in public schools -- it's just the law. You can talk to your friends about these things privately, but you cannot talk to a child.
We have challenged kids in our church community. I know some of them and I talk with the ones I know. We should really treat these people as special people. They need a lot of love and they have a lot of love in their heart. They are God's children and should be treated like everyone else. They need support from all of us to grow, and we should have the heart to give it to them, and their parents. Each of them has so much potential.
Question: If there's something you could tell the world about your experience, what would it be?
Being there for challenged children is an important part of my life, but more generally, the same can be true for all of our lives. We can all do it and we can all support each other. I think I have the best job. I love to work with people, especially when I feel that I can help them and do something meaningful. I still stay in contact with some of the children I've worked with. I think we can develop our hearts by working with them. I certainly learned a lot from them, and I'm really grateful for this.