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Mother supports central Illinois immigrants as a caseworker, after immigrating and parenting in a new country herself

Claudia Calvo Pineda with her two daughters Camila (left) and Arianna (right).
Claudia Calvo Pineda with her two daughters Camila (left) and Arianna.

A passion for working with people and supporting others has always been on the forefront of Claudia Calvo Pineda’s mind — long before she came to Bloomington-Normal.

Calvo is initially from El Salvador, and she earned her degree in business administration before spending several years working in human resources. Her focus was to support others, especially after witnessing the need for community support for those facing poverty or domestic violence.

“It was hard to see that part of my country. That’s when I was more in love with working with people and being an instrument to help these people to [be] better people [and] get some kind of an education so they can earn some kind of income that way [they] can help at their house,” Calvo said.

Calvo with her family in El Salvador.
Calvo with her family in El Salvador.

Calvo said since childhood, she and her two older brothers were always taught to be humble and hardworking. She said both her parents gave her a solid education in a bilingual school.

Life in the United States

In 2014, Calvo moved to the United States to start a family, leaving behind her entire family, friends and career.

“It was completely more than a 360-degree change of my life, completely, because I was a very professional person over there in El Salvador with a good position. Independent with my own income, and I came here and be[came] a full-time mom with a new place that I know nothing at all. Nothing at all. No friends, no nothing,” Calvo said.

Claudia had two daughters shortly after she arrived in the United States, Arianna (7) and Camila (3), and she teaches both her daughters Spanish and English.

When adjusting to life in the U.S., completing simply daily activities looked different than what Calvo said she was used to in El Salvador. Going to the store, driving and more was an adjustment.

Calvo with her two daughters Arianna (left) and Camila (right).
Calvo with her two daughters Arianna (left) and Camila (right).

Calvo said it was hard to navigate this, and the transition to being a new mom in a new country did not come without difficulty.

“It’s a real thing that moms can experience depression and [be] anxious. It’s not a taboo. It’s something real that we can front it, and we can say it,” Calvo said. “So, I invite the moms as well to say, ‘Yes, I suffer with depression.’ It’s good that you can notice that. You can identify it to look for help. I struggle with that, and it’s normal because it’s part of the postpartum as well [as] being alone at your house, struggle[ing] with the things at home.”

Finding community support

Calvo said finding that support is necessary when dealing with postpartum depression, anxiety or other mental health struggles, especially if someone is new to the community.

Eventually, she began to knock on doors and go to groups within the McLean County area. A second home to her is the Western Avenue Community Center in Bloomington because its program, Kindermusik, allows parents and children to learn a second language through music.

Calvo also entered the Early Intervention program, which aids children between the ages of birth to 3 with disabilities or delays, after discovering that Arianna and Camila both had developmental delays. Another program that she found for her Arianna is the SPIES program, which allows children with disabilities to thrive in everyday settings by providing help through everyday interactions.

“We have to ask, and even though if we don’t know the language, there’s people that can help. There’s people that can help each other as a community,” Calvo said.

Calvo's oldest daughter, Arianna, participating in the Western Avenue Community Center's Kindermusik program.
Calvo's oldest daughter, Arianna, participating in the Western Avenue Community Center's Kindermusik program.

Calvo additionally joined a Hispanic mom group at the Bloomington Public Library where she now recruits moms that need support and guides them as they learn English alongside other Spanish speakers.

“This is an opportunity because when you know a second language, it’s like an open window for you. [An] opportunity to look for a better income, to feel more comfortable, to be a way of better communication within the country that is a barrier. Language is hard,” Calvo said.

Finding that support for herself has allowed Calvo to better enjoy motherhood.

“With all those therapies that helped us as well, I’m very thankful. With all these organizations, they’re outside. That’s what I say to our community. Look for help for your kids, for your own mental health, for your professional, for your own personal goals. We have over there open opportunities,” Calvo said.

Providing support for other immigrants

Through the entire adjustment to life in the U.S., Calvo never lost her passion for helping people. Given her own experiences with immigrating, parenting and caring for her mental health, she decided to become a caseworker at the Immigration Project’s Welcoming Center.

Calvo sees her time since joining the Welcoming Center in 2021 as the first independent time of her life since moving to the U.S.

“(I'm) starting to live again. Starting to feel like a professional like I was in El Salvador. The more important thing is that I know that I’m an instrument of God. That he prepared me with all of this knowledge,” Calvo said. “Now, with this knowledge that I get by myself as the spirit of a human being, now, I can share it through the organization that is the Immigration Project, which we help when somebody is in need. We help any kind of a necessity.”

As a caseworker, Calvo supports those transitioning to life in the Bloomington-Normal area, and she personally can relate to the mothers needing support.

Claudia Calvo is a caseworker at the Immigration Project's Welcoming Center. Here, she uses her passion to help others and invests in the lives of immigrants in the community.
Claudia Calvo is a caseworker at the Immigration Project's Welcoming Center. Here, she uses her passion to help others and invests in the lives of immigrants in the community.

“Moms, we need to know that we need to have time for us, and it's hard. It’s hard because our brain is demanding the house, the kids, the food. But we need time for us, and that is a learning process,” Calvo said.

One of the community resources she often directs mothers to is Crisis Nursery, an organization that supports parents and kids enduring homelessness, domestic violence, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, home crisis and other medical challenges.

“I feel like I’m in the right place. The right person in the right place in the right position. As a caseworker, now I’m able to have the support of my organization, which is Immigration Project through the area of Welcoming Center. We can help these people individually or as a group when we have programs,” Calvo said.

“In my case, if I already go through this, I feel the responsibility of helping others, but that is my call[ing]. That’s my personal call[ing], to help my immigrant community,” Calvo said.

Calvo said she seeks to help her immigrant community and share her personal testimony because she knows she is not the only person experiencing these battles. Though through everything, Calvo said there is help, no matter what someone has gone through.

“Find a way. Find help. We are there. We are there. There’s people that can help you. The Western Avenue, they can receive you over there as well as Immigration Project. We can help you. Don’t feel afraid. If the language is your barrier, we can help you over there, yes,” Calvo said.

Jordan Mead is a reporting intern at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021.
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