Bridgebuilder Spotlight: Lourdes Santos
This feature is a part of our “Bridgebuilder Spotlight” series where we lift up some of the amazing Bridgebuilders in our network. If you’d like to connect with Lourdes or other Bridgebuilders, contact our Lead Organizer Nikita Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Choosing to move to a new place is hard, and to a new country even harder. So imagine the challenge when it isn’t a choice at all, and circumstances force you to flee with your family to start all over.
That is how Lourdes arrived to Cincinnati, and yet almost immediately she began weaving herself into the fabric of our city by working to help other new Americans thrive. It was through that engagement that she was invited to participate in the first pilot Cohear conversation in early 2017. It is that same commitment to her new community, Cincinnati, that has made Lourdes such an awesome Bridgebuilder.
Together with her husband, who is originally Palestinian, Lourdes had to make the extremely hard decision to leave her home country of Guatemala after her family became the target of a local gang. The gang had begun extorting the convenience store they were operating.
“They shot a woman and told us ‘you’re next’” remembered Lourdes. “It was very scary. We got our tourist visas and chose to come to Cincinnati since my husband’s family lives here.”
They moved in with her husband’s sister and applied for asylum right away. She took whatever jobs she could, mainly babysitting and cleaning. The transition was difficult.
“When I first came here, I was very depressed. I was away from all of my family and friends. I missed my mother a lot.”
Then Loudes met Sheryl Rajbhandari (another great Bridgebuilder!) and learned about Heartfelt Tidbits, the non-profit Sheryl runs that provides support to refugees and recent immigrants living in Southwestern Ohio. Despite a busy work schedule, she decided to make time as a volunteer to help immigrants and refugees.
“I volunteer because I don’t want anyone else to feel the same way that I felt,” said Loudes. “I wanted to give back, even if she wasn’t paying me.”
Lourdes is now full-time with Heartfelt Tidbits, working as a resource for families at the Academy of World Languages (AWL), a Cincinnati Public School with a large English Language Learner population. She works diligently to bring financial, housing, transportation, and litigation services to the school, and helps coordinate extracurricular activities like cooking and dance classes.
“I really like working with both adults and kids,” said Lourdes.
Lourdes’ first interaction with Cohear was when she was invited to a conversation with City Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld about how Cincinnati can be a more welcoming place.
“There were a lot of problems that the immigrant community faces that came up in the conversation,” said Lourdes. “I’m glad I went because maybe P.G. wasn’t aware of all of those struggles.”
She has since participated on our Community Insights Committee with the President of Duke Energy, and invited her friends and family to join other Cohear conversations.
“Not everybody has a chance to talk to a decision maker and decision makers don’t always know the experiences of the people they want to impact. As a part of the immigrant community, I can give them perspective.”
Lourdes and her family are still waiting for a decision from the Department of Homeland Security. But that’s not stopping her from helping as many immigrant families as she can.
“I’m here to try to help everybody,” she said. “I want to help open doors for people and bring their needs to somebody that will help them.”
Since getting to Cincinnati, Lourdes has been committed to supporting and improving the lives of our newest neighbors, and helping make sure that their perspectives are included at the tables where decisions are made. We are so grateful for her passion, and the impact she is having in our community!