Article and photos by Urban Alliance staff.
When Daniela left South America three years ago and headed for the United States, she envisioned what her life would be like in the "land of opportunity".
She pictured a place where she and her family would flourish. Having worked for many years caring for the elderly, Daniela hoped that she would be able to find similar work once she arrived, and that her children would be provided with a quality education.
But in many ways, that dream had turned into a nightmare. With one daughter in school and the other under her constant care, Daniela has faced many days where she has struggled to have enough food to eat, or wondered if she would be able to pay the rent for her one-bedroom apartment. She faced the difficult juggling act that all single-mothers do, with the added challenge of a language barrier and having her family thousands of miles away.
“It is not easy. You just have to persevere. You might go through a lot of obstacles. I did have a job here but when I became pregnant with my second child I lost my job,” explained Daniela.
When times were especially tough, she did what she always did. She turned to her faith.
“You’ll never, never get out of a bad situation unless you take a step,” she explained. “Put one foot forward with God’s help. God has given me the strength, maturing me. With the strength of God anything is possible. God is good and He reigns over me. His love and sweetness give me peace. No matter how many problems you have and if the world is coming at you, you have to keep going. Keep moving forward. That’s what God taught me.”
After visiting Ebenezer Pentecostal Church on Seymour Street in Hartford, Daniela noticed a flyer for their food pantry, which provides food and basic care items for people in the Frog Hollow neighborhood on Saturdays.
And since then, her hope is building each day.
Along with thirteen other churches and organizations in Greater Hartford, Ebenezer participates in the Urban Alliance initiative Beyond the Basics, which helps increase the impact of basic needs services through training, grant funding, supplies, volunteers, consultation and technical assistance.
Because of this support, the church has been able to help more people through a holistic pantry model, by transitioning to client-choice format (which allows people seeking food assistance to choose for themselves what products they receive), providing classes for people they serve to gain life skills and stability, and by making a community resource coach available to provide case management services.
“This ministry has grown in great proportion thanks to Urban Alliance,” said Bermudez.
Alice Bermudez, known also as “Mom” in her neighborhood, has been more than a community resource coach for many at Ebenezer’s food pantry. She’s been a smiling face, a warm neighbor, a sister in faith, and a source of help when they needed it most.
As a community resource coach, Bermudez (who holds an associates degree in human services) has received training on case management and motivational interviewing from Urban Alliance, which are evidence-based strategies for supporting clients as they work towards achieving their goals and making changes in their lives. Through this training, she learned about professional ethics, documenting services, local community resources, and basic coaching skills and techniques.
Bermudez also attends monthly Beyond the Basics reflective supervision meetings facilitated by Urban Alliance, where she and other coaches continue to sharpen their skills, learn more about community resources, reflect on their work and seek feedback about challenges.
“Daniela has been able to complete every one of the goals we’ve set. She’s enrolled in an ESL class, she completed a Care 4 Kids training, and she’s been applying and interviewing for jobs. The next step is to land a job and hopefully secure health insurance,” explained Bermudez.
With the help of a Beyond the Basics Hartford resource guide developed by Urban Alliance, she can refer Daniela to support services based on her specific needs.
“I’m helping to connect her to the places she needs so she can advance her life. She’s always so positive. She has so much faith. She is a living example of someone who has struggled so hard and still doesn’t catch a break but keeps going. She keeps smiling.”
Bermudez is no stranger to the struggles of trying to gain life stability. She’s stepped in and stepped up when others needed it, even back to when she would interpret for the whole neighborhood block at the young age of eight.
“It’s very hard. I’ve had people that I’ve come to know through the food pantry that have called me up when they were in crisis, and I’ve stepped in. My home has been a safe house. I’ve done this my whole life. I have like over 100 ‘adopted children’ throughout my life because that’s just who I am. We’re all like family. The relationship is key,” she said.
And just like family, everyone who visits Ebenezer’s pantry has a story. Roberto has been in Hartford for 25 years and works for a local cell phone carrier, but he sometimes has a hard time making ends meet. When he does, he knows where to turn.
“Sometimes, even with food stamps, food will get low at the middle or the end of the month. I have gone to different places for help, but Ebenezer is the best place I found for me, because everyone works together. At other places, they’ll say ‘I don’t have what you’re looking for, keep it moving,’ but not at Ebenezer. It is my favorite,” he explained.
“People might not come to the church for help because they will worry that people will see them. But, they shouldn't. Alice is very sweet. She is helping me. She tells me that the door is always open for me if I need it. For me, if I need food, I come to Ebenezer.”
Daniela thanks God for crossing her path with Alice’s.
“Sometimes I stand in awe because I say, ‘Wow, God put that person there for me!’ I live for that joy,” said Daniela. “I don’t know all of my plans because only God knows where He will lead me. Right now what I want in life is for my children to be educated like I was and to be able to move forward.”
With each new day comes new hope for Daniela and her daughters, for Roberto, and for all of the people who walk through the doors of Ebenezer who are greeted with a hug, a smile, and an opportunity for a better tomorrow.
To learn more about Urban Alliance, Beyond the Basics or how to get involved, visit www.urbanalliance.com.
* While these personal stories are true, names may have been changed to protect privacy.
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