Educational Opportunity Center ESL Graduates: Yobel Gonzalez and Karen Hurtado


Yobel and Karen are a married couple with two daughters (ages 15 and 3). They live in Liverpool in a house they bought in 2014.  Yobel is a manager in Environmental Services at Upstate Hospital.  Karen is on a cleaning crew while applying for a job at Upstate in medical billing, having earned her certificate (with honors) in Medical Billing and Coding from EOC last May and an advanced certificate in billing after that.

How did a couple who left Cuba less than 7 years ago with no money and no English, now be living a comfort- able life with a house, car, and good jobs?

Yobel and Karen say it was two things: always keeping their goal firmly in mind, and working as hard as they possibly could to achieve it. For them, going to school was an important part of that work. Even if they could work, without English, life could not move forward. Yobel was working 3 jobs (and occasionally, 4 or even 5 jobs!) Karen had to walk 3 miles (almost an hour and a half ) to get to school when she first started in 2012. But they made it a priority to learn English in school.

Because cleaning jobs were available, they both started cleaning.  For the first 6 months, having no car and no money, Yobel got to his jobs by bicycle, in winter. They worked and saved, worked and saved, buying only necessities, and even then, buying only from thrift stores.

Besides learning the language, they had to learn about things like banks, credit cards, and the internet, none of which they had ever used before. In Cuba, a month’s pay, even at a good job, was about  $20.  So here, even with  a  $7  per  hour  job,  they  could earn more in a day than they could in a month Cuba. And in the USA, they could buy the things they need- ed. In Cuba, often store shelves were bare, and even products like soap and shampoo could not be found.

Yobel wanted to be noticed as a good employee so that when bigger opportunities became available, supervisors would think of him.  He always had his eye open for the next level, the better job with higher pay. He moved up the ladder in  cleaning jobs, but always giving 2 weeks’ notice so that he would be welcome back if that became necessary.  Upstate Hospital offers the highest pay and benefits, making it the best place to work as a cleaner. It took Yobel 21 applications at Upstate before he was finally called for an interview and got in part-time on weekends. His advice to anyone is never to give up on your goal, to keep trying, and you will get there.

Once in at Upstate, if you prove yourself, many opportunities open up. Yobel quickly moved up from part-time to full-time cleaning, but still kept 2 part-time jobs. Then in 2016, he took a test to apply for “sterile processing technician” in the department that sterilizes instruments  and  all  things used in the operating rooms. He went through a year of on-the-job training to get that certification. He and Karen also went through the long process of having their Cuban educational degrees evaluated so that they wouldn’t have to start over in college here. Once that was complete, Yobel found that he was eligible for a manager level position at Upstate, and he became a manager in Environmental Services, the job he has today.

In the meantime, both had taken ESL classes and graduated from the pro- grams at different schools.   The last step was EOC, where, they say, classes were serious and focused, allowing them to get more knowledge in less time.  Yobel remembers when he started working, not understanding anything he heard.  Now, he says, he participates   confidently in meetings at Upstate.

Have a goal, work hard and sacrifice for it, continue education, and don’t give up.  This is the advice Yobel and Karen give for pulling yourself up and getting a better life.

by: Donna Koury