Local volunteer helps immigrants

Squatting on dirt floors of village huts, Sandra Dangler delivered babies among pigs and chickens while working as a registered nurse for the Peace Corps in Guatemala.

She instructed her patients’ families to place pots of water on wood fires in order to boil her hemostats, scissors and two pieces of bias tape to cut off umbilical cords.

The Guatemalan lay midwives would typically use a machete and string to cut the cord, Dangler said.

Before working in the military-run country from 1977-80, Dangler attended a summer intensive language program at Middlebury College in 1975.

The Altoona resident is fluent in country or “campesina” Spanish and volunteers as an interpreter and translator for Spanish speakers.

Dangler, who has lived in the city for four years, volunteered her services as a translator at an immigration detention center earlier this year.

In April, she spent a week at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, helping translate court documents and interviews with immigrants.

She volunteered with the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative to help detainees get legal representation and out of the detention center.

“Because of the way we have our laws, we make them live in the shadows,” Dangler said. “Their lives are so complicated because there are so many things they can’t do. They can’t get a driver’s license. They can’t get a bank account.

“They feel like they have no rights, and people take advantage of them,” she added.

The detention center, located in Lumpkin, Ga., is an all-male medium security facility with the capacity to hold close to 2,000 detainees, according to Dangler.

With only a Spanish-English dictionary, paperwork, a pad of paper and a pen in hand, Dangler waited for hours to speak with detainees and an SIFI

attorney in the detention center. She said she helped about eight to 10 detainees during the week at the detention center.

Ishrat Mannan, an SIFI project coordinator, said Dangler is a dedicated, warm and passionate woman.

“She has continuously tried to find ways that she can help assist immigrants,” Mannan said. “I know she is a part of rallies and is very invested in educating those around her.”

Terry, Dangler’s husband, said he supports all of her work with immigrants, which he described as effective on an individual level.

“There’s no question her heart is in the right place. This is her passion,” Terry said. “Sandra believes in equality. That’s one of her driving values. And she believes that everybody is equal.”

In addition to attending rallies to support immigrants and offering translation services, Dangler also volunteers twice a week at Pleasant Valley Elementary School, teaching English to students from Sudan.

Jonelle Dongilla met Dangler while working as an ESL teacher at Pleasant Valley Elementary School. She said Dangler helped families of ESL students get involved with the elementary school and volunteered her help in Dongilla’s class.

“A lot of us talk about things that need to be changed. We talk about politics and we gripe and complain about stuff,” Dongilla said. “But she is actually someone who does something.”

Prior to retiring, Dangler taught as an adjunct professor at Penn State Altoona from 2014-17.

Dangler described some of the students she taught as very gifted.

“We need to give these young boys and girls a chance,” she said. “They are going to make America great again. They have so much potential and so much drive.”

Dangler earned a nursing degree and minor in Spanish from Indiana University in 1977. In 2003, she earned a master’s degree in English with a concentration in TESOL, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, from Salisbury University.

She worked as an assistant English as a Second Language teacher from 1997-2003 while taking classes at Salisbury. She also worked as an ESL teacher in Virginia for eight years before volunteering at a high school in Colorado for three years.

She said she moved to the Altoona area in order to be close to her grandchildren.

Mirror Staff Writer Shen Wu Tan is at 946-7457.