Imagine being an immigrant single mother with young children struggling to put together a new life in a new home where you don’t speak the language well and don’t understand how the health, social service, and education systems work. The St Louis metropolitan area has been one of the fastest growing areas in the country for immigrants, both documented and undocumented. Many of the new immigrants are Latina single mothers, dealing with significant trauma experienced in their home country, during their migration, and now in their adjustment to life in the United States. Most can readily find work but they are vulnerable to exploitation as they try to adjust. Without advocates to help them navigate their new situation, many felt lost.
Most of these immigrants are hesitant to reach out for services either because of their undocumented status or their fear of seeking services impacting their path to citizenship. Most rely on people they know from their country of origin and their clans. This networking although vital for their survival, often leads them into situations of exploitation from landlords, unscrupulous employers, and ill-informed friends who provide inaccurate information.
An additional crisis that these families experience is that as the mothers often work two jobs at odd hours, their children are not always provided with the kind of adult supervision one might hope for. Families cannot spend much quality time together. Most of the children are becoming acculturated faster than their parent. Some are ashamed of their parents who are not picking up English as well as they are. Those from ten years of age through young adulthood begin to experience an alienation from their family and are becoming more vulnerable to gang influences.
“These brothers and sisters are struggling to adapt to this country, the different languages, customs, and values. Parents feel lost. Parents and teenagers become strangers living under the same roof; the meaning of family is totally lost.”
Sr. Rosario Bobadilla was working in the Hispanic community and noticed this growing trend of single mothers needing assistance. In 2018, she organized 12 LatinX leaders and found funding for them to attend a workshop offered by the Gamaliel Network to develop skills that would enable them to better organize the Catholic LatinX community to respond to the needs of newly arrived immigrants. These natural leaders were chosen because their desire to be of service was very deep. Since this training, 2/3 of the original group continue to meet twice a month with Sr. Rosario to identify needs among the new immigrant community and seek solutions. They have been joined by 7 new leaders. Naming themselves Unidos en Christo (United in Christ) they have experienced the power of their bonds. Their commitment to minister together has strengthened their faith.
Probably the most meaningful service these Unidos en Christo leaders provide is their accompaniment of the new immigrants who know they have a trusted friend to call when they need help. The leaders, on average, donate 20 hours of service a month to visiting the families and responding to their phone calls. Sr. Rosario donates approximately 50 hours a month to this project providing frequent phone consultation to help leaders identify community resources or problem solve how to address the most serious problems.
Sr. Rosario notes that although there are many resources to which the leaders can turn for assistance, obtaining support for safe and appropriate housing is a consistent need that is difficult to address and one of the major factors that leads to family stability.
Another emerging need that Sr. Rosario and the adult leaders are increasingly concerned about is the teenagers and young adults who are being attracted to gangs. They know that developing resources for this group must be their next priority.
“I and the Hispanic Leaders work to help new immigrants form responsible families who live their Christian values. We work with them to realize their vision of their family’s future in this country that they begin to adopt as their own.”
Funds are Needed
It now appears crucial to identify and train a group of 10 youth leaders who can understand the issues facing immigrant youth and together with the adult leaders (Unidos en Christo) organize effective programs to engage the youth within their ethnic and faith community while assisting them to continue to navigate their acculturation into the United States. Training, support, and funds for programming will enable these youth and adult leaders to continue to intervene through these informal networks.
• 10 youth engaged in leadership development for 15 sessions – $2,000 (Leadership Development program will be led by Sr. Rosario with assistance from the Unidos en Christo leaders)
• Day-long workshops for teenagers $1,000 for 6 workshops-$6,000 (food for 3 meals, snacks and ending with a live-band performance evening)
• Day-long intensive workshops for 5 families with at-risk teenagers- $1,000 for 6 workshops (food, snacks, etc.)
• Activities organized by teen and adult leaders- $1,000 for 6 activities
• Fund for referrals to family counseling and drug treatment $5,000
• 1,000 Youth and adult leaders engage families through regular visits (donated service with donated professional consultation from Sr. Rosario)
Funds are needed to assist immigrant families with rental security deposits and crisis rental assistance.
• $500 would provide rental assistance to a family in need.
• $200 would help with paying utilities
Immediate Charitable Response
• $25,000 for rental and security deposit assistance, utilities assistance to assist a minimum of 25 families
• $25,000 to support youth leader training and programming.
Community leaders will be able to assist new immigrants to adjust materially, culturally, emotionally, and spiritually through regular home visits, telephone support, and programming.
Housing Instability: New immigrants will be able to obtain and maintain safe and affordable housing.
Uniting the Community to Help a Mother in Need
When Ms. L called one of the Unidos en Christo leaders, she was frantic. The mother of three teenagers had just been diagnosed with cancer and she had no money for treatment. Her family was just making ends meet with her paycheck. Pausing only a moment, the leader reassured Ms. L that she was not alone and there would be help. Then he hopped into action mobilizing the Hispanic immigrant community.
In a matter of days, all the food had been donated, equipment secured, and volunteers committed for a taco sale. All the money donated for the tacos went directly to Ms. L. The community came out to support Ms. L and she has the payment she needs to begin her treatment. The Unidos en Christo leader and his wife have been to her house and will continue to engage the community to support her through her illness.
The goal of Unidos en Christo is for community leaders to assist new immigrants to adjust materially, culturally, emotionally, and spiritually through regular home visits, telephone support, and programming. This effort to help Ms. L shows the power of an immigrant community banding together.