A hand up, not a hand out

Twenty years ago, Amelia Lozano was a newlywed arriving in Asheville from Mexico with her husband José and two small suitcases. She remembers feeling nervous and unsure of this bold step she had made, due in large part to the fact she could not speak English. She had left all that was familiar behind her as she forged a new life in the United States.

After a few years, Amelia was the proud mother of three children and her husband was working steadily in the construction field. Her family life was strong, but she remembers feeling isolated and cut-off from the rest of her community. This is common for many immigrant women due to factors such as language and transportation barriers, adapting to new cultures and homesickness.

Amelia heard of the Children First/CIS Family Resource Center at Emma (FRCE) and came for a visit to learn about opportunities that were available. Her family was experiencing some financial difficulties, so she was able to receive supplemental food boxes and other resources. She came to the FRCE when times got tough, but she wasn’t a frequent visitor.

Everything changed for her and her family when she met Norma Brown, the Children First/CIS Latino Outreach Coordinator.  The Emma Community does not have traditional amenities such as libraries or community centers, so the FRCE is the “hub” of the community.  Amelia realized that there were many opportunities for her to become more empowered, less isolated and learn new skills in the process.

She signed up for classes on improving literacy skills and parenting techniques taught by Norma, or Doña Norma, as they respectfully and caringly call her. The classes serve multiple purposes: they provide a support system for Latino families, improve English writing and speaking skills and parents learn new parenting techniques.

Amelia has been attending weekly classes with the same group of women for over a year. Her face lights up as she talks about the fun she has with them each week and how they have all formed a strong bond. “This group of friends, whatever happens, we are there for each other,” she says.

Never underestimate the impact of one person can have on many. Norma’s connection has reached every member of Amelia’s family.  Last year, Amelia’s husband, José, was unexpectedly laid off from his long-time job. He came to the FRCE where Norma arranged for him to receive case-management services on doing online job searches and resume building. After only three months, he was employed full-time. He and Amelia are frequent volunteers at the FRCE, helping with maintenance and keeping everything in order.

Amelia’s 17-year old daughter Daniela attends Erwin High School. A good student and articulate speaker, Norma chose to take Daniela to UNCA to present at a workshop on challenges immigrants face in attending college. This was the first time Daniela had been on a college campus, and she and Norma laugh together as they remember getting lost on the campus and being unable to find their car.

A few months later, Norma told her about a three-day healthcare conference at UNC-Wilmington organized by Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) open to high-school students interested in the healthcare profession. Norma helped her through the application process.  Her parents needed a bit of coaxing to let her go, but Amelia herself credits the parenting classes Norma teaches at the FRCE in helping her make the decision to let Daniela go.

“The classes have really opened my mind,” says Amelia. Daniela agrees, “Norma has helped me with so many opportunities. It’s not typical for Latino parents to let their daughters go on their own for three days.” But with aspirations to become a pediatric nurse, this conference is a great opportunity for Daniela and her future.

As matriarchs of families who have immigrated from other countries, Norma and Amelia share the challenges of raising their children in a new country, while maintaining and instilling their cultural identity. Daniela is the bridge between the two cultures and is intent upon sustaining her families’ traditions while forging her own identity. It is clear when these three women get together, there is mutual admiration, respect, and caring. And a lot of laughter.  Although this is a story about Amelia, Daniela and Norma, it is just one story out of many that Norma shares with all of the families she serves.


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