As employees at ADEC Industries wrap up their work for the day and prepare to head home, sometimes you’ll hear them call out: “Adios, amigos! Adios, señiorita!”

You’ll also see Raquel Santiago waving goodbye with a big grin on her face.

Raquel, a group leader at ADEC Industries, enjoys teaching the clients she works with simple Spanish phrases. But as much as she has taught employees at ADEC Industries about the culture of her home country of Mexico, she said they have taught her so much more about being an American.

Raquel was born in Veracruz, Mexico, a major port city located along the Gulf of Mexico. In 1999, she immigrated to Indiana to find a better life for herself and her children, spending the better part of a year in Ligonier before moving to Elkhart. She spent the first few years of her time in the U.S. working as a babysitter, but when those children were old enough to go to school, she was at a loss for what to do for work.

“My daughter was looking for special work for me,” Raquel said. “She called me and said, ‘Mom, I got it. I know you are going to like it. You are going to work in a factory with people with special needs, and you are going to love it.'”

Raquel started at ADEC Industries in 2004 in a temporary position. And her daughter was right: Raquel loved working with adults with disabilities.

Soon enough, a supervisor position opened up and Raquel was encouraged to apply. But although she was able to hold conversations in English, Raquel was still not comfortable reading and writing in the language — a skill that was necessary in a supervisor role, as she would be writing goals, reviews and individual support plans for her clients.

But Raquel was not discouraged, and instead enrolled in English classes. Between those classes and help from her clients and colleagues, Raquel now speaks fluent English.

“I still sometimes say the wrong word, and they’ll correct me,” Raquel said. “They help me a lot with my English. I’ll ask, ‘How do you pronounce this?’ They feel very glad to help me out.”

But the language was not Raquel’s only challenge when attempting to acclimate to U.S. culture. For one, she was very shy and nervous about interacting with strangers in public. Her clients and colleagues at ADEC Industries were always welcoming and accepting, which helped Raquel become more confident — both in the workplace and in her social life at church and in her neighborhood.

“There was a lot of challenges, and I’m still learning,” she said. “This place is a good place to learn to socialize, to be professional and to be loving and caring.”

And then there was the fact that Raqeul did not have a valid driver’s license for many years after she arrived in the U.S. Because ADEC requires all employees to possess a valid driver’s license, Raquel’s boss urged her to visit the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and take a driving test.

“Seven times I went to the branch, but I didn’t quit,” Raquel said. “My boss kept telling me, ‘You can do it. Keep trying.'”

Not only is Raquel now a licensed driver, she is now a U.S. citizen. She earned her citizenship in 2009 — a milestone that she said ADEC helped her accomplish.

Although she loved her job at ADEC Industries (and her clients love working with her), Raquel submitted her resignation in November of 2015. Her mom, who is now 86, had become very sick and Raquel knew she needed to go home to spend time with her family. She knew it would be hard to leave, but she did not expect such an outpouring of support from the employees at ADEC Industries. There were lots of tears that day, and ADEC clients talked about how much they cared about Raquel.

When Raquel left for Mexico, she did not think she would ever return to ADEC Industries. But then her mother’s health took an unexpected turn for the better, and Raquel took that as a sign that she belonged at ADEC. She returned to Elkhart in April.

“I missed my clients. I came to visit, and we were crying,” Raquel said. “They kept asking if I was going to come back, and I wondered if there was a place for me.”

Although there were no openings at ADEC Industries when Raquel returned from Mexico, she still submitted an application and was hired back by ADEC to work as a direct support professional at a day service site in July. The next month, a group leader position opened back up at ADEC Industries, and the managers there were quick to take Raquel back.

Ivy Crockett, production manager at ADEC Industries, said the day Raquel left for Mexico was an emotional day — but so was the day she returned.

“We were overwhelmed with joy when she reapplied,” Ivy said. “She’s a happy spirit, always laughing and dancing.”

ADEC clients were also happy that Raquel was back.

“I like being here,” Micah Coget said. “Raquel is a good leader. She’s nice.”

Most of all, Raquel is happy to be back as a group leader at ADEC Industries. She said she is happy to go to work every day, and makes sure she pours love and compassion into her job.

“My clients, my people, the staff, everyone is so nice and they are so lovely,” Raquel said. “I’m happy to go to work here. This job has helped me to improve myself, and I’m very blessed for that.”

Photo by Rod Tackett | Communications Specialist