Last summer, the Bonilla family made a life-changing trip when they moved from Honduras to West Chicago seeking medical treatment for their youngest daughter.
Like many who immigrate to the U.S. seeking safety, healthcare and opportunity, the Bonillas faced great financial difficulty when they arrived.
“We didn’t bring anything with us,” Mr. Bonilla said. “The beginning was the most difficult, as we were starting over and just needed to re-establish ourselves.”
Because of federal laws, many of our neighbors who are immigrants aren’t eligible for public benefits that would help them meet their basic needs. Instead, community organizations often step up to provide warm welcomes and resources.
Teresa Ocon-Olhagaray, a family liaison at the kids’ new elementary school, immediately reached out to welcome the Bonillas to the community.
In West Chicago, schools are more than hubs of learning. They’re places where students and whole families can connect to the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. United Way is proud to invest in community partners that ensure our neighbors (especially new ones!) are healthy and financially stable.
Through WeGo Together for Kids — the lead agency of the West Chicago Neighborhood Network — family liaisons and community outreach workers like Teresa connect with students and their families to provide resources like financial assistance, food, counseling and more.
For their first meeting, Teresa visited the Bonillas’ home and learned about their family and needs. Teresa quickly got them connected to medical support, case management services and mental health care.
At the time, the family of four was living with their grandmother, their only relative in the country. However, the apartment was too small for all five of them. So, Teresa helped them apply for financial assistance to cover a rental deposit.
Since, she’s helped them secure clothes, shoes and toys for the kids, while connecting them to local food pantries for fresh goods. Every week, they receive household and hygiene items like diapers, sanitary napkins and hand sanitizer, too.
But just as the Bonillas were finally getting settled, COVID-19 struck. Mr. Bonilla has lost hours and pay, and the students are learning remotely — an even greater challenge for students who are new to the school and country.
“COVID-19 has greatly affected us,” Mr. Bonilla said. “Sometimes we barely make enough money to eat, and we pay the rent in increments.”
To help, Teresa and her team at WeGo are working hard to bridge the communication between the Bonillas and school staff as the family gets adjusted. Teresa also got the family connected to Wi-Fi and a personal device for remote learning. Within an hour of getting their tablet, the family was online and ready to start virtual schooling.
For that, Mr. Bonilla is very grateful. “Teresa has helped us so much, honestly since the beginning of our time in West Chicago,” he said. “Her support means the world to us.”
“We are so grateful with all the support we receive from gift cards for grocery shopping to the emergency kits to the items for our children,” he added. “We hope that people keep donating to these types of programs because without them, we couldn’t survive.”