man from Urbana honored for “most enriching experience of my life” | Social services

URBANA – The operation was supposed to take five hours, thought Greg Springer.

But as he sat with the aunt of an 11-year-old Guatemalan boy he had volunteered to drive to Chicago for the procedure, the clock passed hours past the time he thought he was. the eye surgery was supposed to end.

“It went on and on, and I thought something terrible was going on,” Springer said.

The operation lasted 10 hours – five for each eye – and to Springer’s relief, it was successful. Then the real work began.

After the operation, Springer and the boy’s aunt were given a dizzying list of instructions for applying eye ointments in the coming weeks. The aunt, who looked after five other children at home, speaks mainly the rare Mayan language of Q’anjob’al, and even through a translator, the instructions were difficult to understand.

Springer therefore took it upon himself to learn the instructions. And over the next month, the Urbana resident visited the boy several times a day to apply the drug.

The boy, a recently immigrated orphan, is now in school, where he regularly learns to speak English, and Springer is working to help him receive bifocals.

“He’s so excited about everything, and his teachers really love him,” Springer said. “So this is my adventure this summer. And I certainly got as much out of it as he did, because it’s really rewarding to see his progress. “

Springer had no intention of playing such a large role in the boy’s care. But when asked for help, he agreed, as he has done so many times for local Guatemalan immigrants.

For the past seven years, Springer has driven immigrants to Indianapolis and Chicago, helped them move around town, and took them on appointments to receive driver’s licenses and other documents. . A few years ago, he paid $ 500 for a 1999 Dodge Dakota truck to lend it to those in need. Almost every day he receives a cry for help.

The relationship with the local Guatemalan community “wasn’t really planned or coordinated, that’s just how it happened,” said Springer, who will receive the Distinguished Service to Immigrants award from the Champaign-Urbana Forum on the immigration Saturday. “But I got closer to a lot of people and a lot of families.”

Springer’s involvement in the local Guatemalan community dates back seven years, when he was a substitute teacher at Urbana schools. When he found out that a student from Guatemala lived a few blocks away from him, he and his wife, who died in 2016, invited the student and his family to join them for Thanksgiving dinner.

Soon after, Springer helped the student receive his driver’s license and Social Security card. Through this relationship and another with Lucia Maldonado, the liaison with Latino parents in the Urbana School District, he has become a resource person for local Guatemalans, many of whom speak primarily Q’anjob’al.

As his relationship with the Guatemalan community developed later in life, Springer early on developed an affinity for community service, Latin America, and the Spanish language. When he was 11, his family moved to central Puerto Rico for a year while his father helped build a new hospital through a connection with the local Mennonite church.

The city was idyllic and verdant, filled with jungles to climb into and lizards to play with. Springer attended a Spanish speaking school and became proficient in the language by the end of the year.

He traveled to Spanish-speaking countries several times in the years that followed, including several trips to Bucaramanga, Colombia, to establish a sister church in his local Mennonite church, as well as to Mexico and Guatemala, where he served. now several friends. On some trips he spends months in one place.

As he grew closer to the local Guatemalan community, Springer was disappointed to see anti-immigrant sentiment grow in recent years across the country.

“What sometimes depresses me is the criminalization of migrants, which has really happened over the past four years in particular,” he said. “I think what people are called to do is take care of people who are foreigners, immigrants, the poor, the children. I mean, that’s what we’re called to do.

“And let me tell you, it has been the most rewarding experience of my life for me. I’m just thankful that I can do it, that I have the time and the capacity to do it. I just wouldn’t want to do anything else.

For him, immigration is at the heart of American history and his own family history. After all, his great-grandfather moved to Fisher from France without any immigration papers.

“He moved here, and years later brought his parents and brothers, and it’s a very parallel story to how the Guatemalans came here,” Springer said. “I think that’s a very American way of shaking things up. Immigrants are what make up our country.

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