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Rediscovering a hometown

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

MAS scholar serves the immigrant community of San Rafael

by Carlos Anchondo '14

Searching for summer internships, Madison Matthies ’18 knew that she wanted to serve her hometown of San Rafael, Calif. Matthies hungered for the same connection her parents enjoy as involved community members in Marin County, so she inquired with area nonprofits to satisfy her desire to give back locally.

Matthies found her summer home at Canal Alliance, a nonprofit serving low-income, Spanish-speaking immigrants by helping them acquire the skills they need for successful lives. Urged by Spanish professor Arturo Madrid, Matthies applied for and was awarded an Alvarez Internship Grant, which provides funding for internships at nonprofits supporting predominantly Hispanic populations and requires the intern to utilize Spanish or Portuguese. Grants are awarded through the Mexico, the Americas, and Spain (MAS) program.

As an intended double major in Spanish and sociology, Matthies knew Canal Alliance would be an excellent fit. She currently serves as an intern in the alliance’s immigration department, helping attorneys by performing Spanish to English translations for court cases, filling out DACA (deferred action for childhood arrival) applications, assisting clients with citizenship applications, and more.

“This internship has taught me to be confident in the skills that I have,” Matthies says. “The clients at Canal Alliance are often nervous and they expect you to take control of the situation, to know what you are doing and put them at ease.”

Matthies recalls a meeting with an immigrant woman in her early 20s who was renewing a work permit on a tight deadline. In a world where using the incorrect color ink can spell disaster for an application, Matthies put her initial nerves aside to help a woman not far from her own age.

“After I helped her with her application, she was really grateful for my time,” Matthies says. “She was maybe a year older than me, with a young child, and it was nice to be able to connect with her and to share information about our lives.”

The encounter reminded Matthies that young people are often dealing with responsibilities that far outweigh their age.

“Despite everything that she was going through, she took the time to thank me and said she hoped to see me again,” Matthies says. “I felt like there was this mutual inspiration, like we both helped each other in a way.”

In addition to legal assistance, the Canal Alliance provides services ranging from adult education and money management courses to guidance for pregnant mothers and emotional support. The mission of Canal Alliance is to invest in the success of all immigrants.  

“Canal Alliance does its best to make this a place where, no matter your age or where you come from, you can feel at home and accepted,” Matthies says.

Over the course of her internship, Matthies has worked with immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, and a variety of other Central and South American countries. Through her interactions, she says she has seen how hard-working immigrants can be, despite economic, language, and cultural barriers facing them in the U.S.

“Every immigrant brings different capabilities to the table,” Matthies says. “I see people who are able to rise above and persevere. This internship has given me brand new set of eyes into what these people go through.”

Matthies says that wherever you live, immigration is an issue that affects every American. She calls it a topic that is “completely relevant” to the current national discourse, no matter how removed from the issue someone may feel. Matthies says that the Canal Alliance wants you to know that everyone has an immigration story, a story that is worth telling.

“Canal Alliance has taught me to have an open mind, to exude confidence, and to be passionate about the work that you do,” Matthies says. “I was so excited when I found out that I got this internship and I feel like I have a greater sense of the goals of the MAS program and as though my internship has exemplified exactly what the program wants to do.”

An Alvarez Internship Grant also requires approval of the MAS Executive Committee. To obtain an internship, the applicant must have his/her proposal accepted by a potential faculty sponsor and must secure an official letter of approval from the agency/nonprofit in question. For more information contact Aaron Navarro, director of the MAS program, at anavarro [at]

Carlos Anchondo is a writer and editor for marketing communications and a 2014 Trinity graduate. He can be found on Twitter at @cjanchondo or at canchond [at]