When Michael Mora-Brenes moved to the United States at age 16, the native of Turrubares, Costa Rica, spoke only Spanish.
Today, the 23-year-old Ohio Wesleyan University senior is fluent in English and in the universal languages of compassion and community service. Mora-Brenes has used his time at Ohio Wesleyan to help address language and other barriers that impact the lives of immigrants, migrants, and refugees.
For his efforts, Mora-Brenes, a sociology major and anthropology and Spanish double-minor, has earned a 2017 Charles J. Ping Student Service Award.
The Ping Award is presented annually by the Ohio Campus Compact to recognize undergraduate students who “represent the next generation of civic leaders and problem-solvers.” The award honors the students for their “outstanding leadership and contributions to community service or service-learning on their campus and within their community.”
Mora-Brenes’s work has included helping to create H.A.L.O. (Hispanic and Latinx Outreach), a volunteer program that provides free translation and interpreting services for Delaware City Schools. The group’s outreach has included volunteering at parent/teacher conferences and translating documents to help Spanish-speaking families better support their children’s academic performance.
Mora-Brenes also has volunteered as a Spanish interpreter and translator for both Delaware’s Family Resource Center and for the LEADS Head Start program.
In addition, he is an ambassador for the L.A.S.E.R. (Latino and Latin American Space of Enrichment and Research) program, which provides guidance and mentorship for Hispanic and Latino high school students to support their college aspirations. Three of five students mentored by the Ohio Wesleyan volunteers already have been admitted to college, said Mora-Brenes, who also has served as president of VIVA Latinx – Ohio Wesleyan’s Latin American student association.
“Being an immigrant and having experienced language barriers myself motivated me to help others overcome theirs,” he said of his service.
During his time at Ohio Wesleyan, Mora-Brenes has been awarded two university-funded Theory-to-Practice Grants to support international travel, research, and service involving both the “Effects of Marginalization and Xenophobia in Europe: Cultural and Volunteer Experience in ‘El Gallinero’ and ‘La Monachina’ in Spain” and the “Intersectionalities of the Refugee Crisis in France.”
Of the first trip, which included tutoring children in Roma, or gypsy, settlements in Spain and Italy, Mora-Brenes said: “After seeing and experiencing the level of exclusion these people have to face, it got me wondering why we as humans tend to let those things that make us unique separate us and divide us. Despite our cultural differences, language barriers, and different traditions, we are all human, and we all deserve to be treated equally and with respect.”
After graduation, Mora-Brenes said his goal is to work in the nonprofit sector with an organization devoted to working with and for underrepresented communities in the elimination of social and linguistic barriers.
In nominating him for a 2017 Ping Award, Ohio Wesleyan President Rock Jones, Ph.D, said Mora-Brenes “doesn’t just talk about working for change. He does it, and he helps others do the same.”
“Once in a great while, if a university is very fortunate,” Jones said, “a student enrolls who profoundly impacts the campus culture. Michael Mora-Brenes has done just that at Ohio Wesleyan University; and because of him, we have been inspired to embrace and celebrate the rich diversity of our campus and the larger world around us. We are more sensitive to the lives of those whose experiences and opportunities are different than our own, and we are more cognizant of our responsibility to reach out.”