It's perhaps no accident that 26-year-old Marvin Campos has found his calling as an advocate for one of Chattanooga's most vulnerable immigrant communities.
Campos, 26, who was born in Los Angeles to immigrant parents, says his his mother is from Mexico and his father is from El Salvador. He grew up watching them helping others in the Hispanic communities in cities across America where they lived and worked — Wichita, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; Omaha, Nebraska and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Today, Campos serves as a life coach for an outreach program sponsored by the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults. The United Way-funded program, called Building Stable Lives, aims to provide a bridge to social services for families with dire needs.
"We don't have funding (for direct assistance)," Campos says. "It's basically creating goals and connecting them to resources.
"The goals could be: I want a new job. I want to save money. Or I want to find daycare for my kids."
Campos, a Seventh-Day Adventist by faith, has a Master of Social Work degree from Southern Adventist University. He says he went to graduate school after he realized he couldn't be a high school counselor.
"I was a horrible teenager," he says. "I did not want to work with 10 other Marvins."
As a bilingual life coach, Campos serves a population in East Lake made up primarily of immigrants from Guatemala. He has an office in the Salvation Army complex on East 28th Street, but spends much of his time reaching out to needy families through neighborhood schools and word-of-mouth.
His office has a rack full of school clothes and he has a closet full of toiletries and household essentials he hoards for needy families. Mostly, he just makes himself available to anyone in need, especially those who have language or transportation needs.
Campos, who has been on the job for a year, says his typical client is a Hispanic mother whose breadwinner husband has been deported.
"There are some families that are stable, but there are more that tell me: 'My husband just got deported. I have four kids and I just gave birth to a fifth. I've never worked. I don't drive. What do I do?'"
Campos says in such situations he allows for a short outpouring of grief, followed by a exhortation to the women to find and keep a job. "I tell them, 'It's not going to be a fun job, it's not going to be an easy job, but here is a job you can have right now."
For illustration, he says that one of his female clients who is a mother recently took a job as a painter. He also helps his clients navigate public transportation if they can't — or won't — drive.
Some of the immigrants he works with struggle with being stuck in the system waiting for their asylum cases to be heard. Often their hearings are in Memphis at 8 a.m., which presents a major hurdle if you don' have transportation, Campos says.
He says his mandate is broad.
"I've been told to go into the community and see what the need is," he says. "I love it. I'm so glad we don't have kids yet. I'd have to find a different job with more pay."
* Age: 26
* Job: “Building Stable Lives” Life Coach for the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults
* Birthplace: Los Angeles
* Education: Master of Social Work, Southern Adventist University
* Family: Married, no children