We've all seen the heart-wrenching images of tens of thousands of families separated at the border. This is one of those stories.
After trying to flee Honduras, Mabel Gonzalez was detained in Texas and sent back, leaving her 18-year-old son, Alex, to take care of his two younger brothers for four years.
"There's people killing others and in areas, a lot of robbery," Alex says, in explaining why the family fled Honduras. "It made me feel very fearful of coming out of my house. Once you're targeted, they don't stop until they find you and they'll look for you until they find you then they'll kill you."
"They were being hunted by these men who'd already killed his uncles," says Immigration and Family Law Attorney, Karenina Wolff, "They killed four of his mom's brothers."
Alex was 17 when the family decided to risk the journey across the border for a better, less fearful life. He was 18 by the time they actually crossed the border.
"I couldn't turn myself in to ICE because I was already 18. And I didn't want to be deported," Alex says, "I would've been sent back. And I would've gone back to the same danger that I was escaping."
He says he had to walk 15 days and 16 nights before reaching a store that made him realize he was in the US.
His mom, however, was detained in Texas and then deported back to Honduras.
"But then she turned right around and said it's too dangerous. And went back through Guatemala, back to Mexico and then established herself at the Mexican border trying to get back to her kids," Wolff explains.
Alex, she says, was the one "who really stepped in to take guardianship of his brothers."
"Between the three of us, we used to cook while I was working, they would go to school but they would help out," Alex says, "It was about four years that I did not see my mom."
Wolff says she did not see a legal way for Alex's mom to get asylum in the United States and be reunited with her children, "It was like 'she's been deported.' To come back, you have to get a waiver. You have to wait ten years, normally."
But Mabel's lawyer got them to reopen her deportation case and let her in on humanitarian parole, "Which is basically a way to say we're going to let you in for these extreme humanitarian reasons," Wolff explains, "When their mom showed up, it was like an apparition like we can't even begin to process that she's even here."
"I was in shock," Alex says, remembering the tearful reunion, "I couldn't move. I saw everybody was running up to hug her but I was numb. I was able to feel the warmth of her arms again."
With mom and sons reunited, Alex can go back to being a kid again.
"I couldn't believe it was her. Or it was really happening," Alex says, "Because to me, she's my everything."
"I felt a huge respect for my son, Alex," Mabel says, "because he took a really important role in all of this like as a father, really, and doing what he had to do to take care of his brothers. And any mother or father would feel really proud of a son who did this."
Alex was 18 when he came here so his legal situation, Wolff says, remains uncertain.
"I really don't know why people don't understand sometimes," Alex says, in explaining why he took the risk, "maybe it's because we're Hispanic coming to this country. Come here to bring danger but in reality, we come over because we want a better life. And to do that we work," he says, "Now that we're united, we feel like a family. And we're happier."
Puerto Rican competitive BBQ chef uses skills to feed Afghan evacuees
Hiram Quintana has competed for years on the competitive BBQ circuit. His skills are now being used to prepare meals for Afghan evacuees finding refuge in Philadelphia.
He is a restaurateur and chef who has helped open a number of restaurants in Pottstown. But Hiram's passion is helping feed others in need.
He grew up in Puerto Rico, where his family taught him the importance of gathering over a meal. His family came to Philadelphia, but he moved to the suburbs where he learned to cook. Hiram is classically trained in French cooking but his time in catering opened his eyes to preparing meals for the masses.
He was recently 'deployed' by Operation BBQ Relief, a national organization that has served more than a million meals as part of disaster relief around the United States. It is a network of competitive BBQ chefs who use those skills as a first response tool for communities in need.
Hiram is currently preparing 1,800 meals a day for the Afghan evacuees landing in Philadelphia. A network of volunteers has helped him cook, create and pack the meals to be delivered.
Partners like Operation 143, a Pottstown non-profit, have helped him build a long list of volunteers in order to fulfill the massive amount of orders to provide a small comfort for the evacuees displaced in Philadelphia.
Sizzle | Facebook | Instagram
300 East High Street, Pottstown, PA 19464
J.J. Ratigan Brewing Company | Facebook | Instagram
227 East High Street, Pottstown, PA 19464
Operation BBQ Relief | Facebook | Instagram
Operation 143 | Facebook | Instagram
Documentarian Patricia Yáñez making the world a better though film
In a spare bedroom in her South Philadelphia rowhome, Patricia Yáñez is working on a half dozen documentaries on everything from the plight of the bumblebees to profiles of creative people like Philadanco Founder Joan Myers Brown and artist Leroy Johnson.
"If money were no objection, I want to do documentaries of everything," Yáñez says.
She is the head of Creative Synergy Media, a company she founded in 2016.
"We want to highlight creatives," Yáñez says, "I feel like that's the contribution that we can do is just pass the mic or, you know, shine the light."
Yáñez was born in 1974, in New Jersey, a year after the Chilean coup that put military dictator Augusto Pinochet in power.
When she was 4, her parents moved her and her three siblings back to Chile where they lived under dictatorship until 1990 when Pinochet stepped down.
"I'm the first generation of film directors in Chile after the dictatorship," says Yáñez, who attended Duoc UC, an institute that is part of a very prestigious university in Chile. "Most of my professors lived in exile," Yáñez says.
She graduated just after the 9/11 attacks and a sister, who'd moved back to America, convinced her to do the same.
"I remember looking at this passport, and realizing I can come to the United States whenever I want and just work." Yáñez says. She's been a Spanish teacher in the Glassboro School District ever since.
Making documentaries is her side passion.
"I now know what I want to be when I grow up," Yáñez jokes.
She works with an Argentinian editor who lives in Panama and collaborates with a screenwriter in Chile, the professor who taught her the craft.
"So we do a lot of Zooms," Yáñez explains.
She took out a loan to finance her work and just got a grant from the city of Philadelphia. She's about to release her first finished documentary called Hear, Philly.
"It's basically a playlist," Yáñez says, "mostly Bach pieces performed by students, one instrument at a time."
When considering topics to tackle, she says she's looking for problems that need to be solved.
"Music education and preservation of classical music, I think is important. Saving the bees is important," she says, "honoring and paying tribute to someone like Leroy Johnson."
Johnson is an 84-year-old African American artist in Philadelphia that Yáñez feels strongly "we in Philadelphia should know about; we should study him."
"I just very organically see a need and just go with it," she says. "I can't help it...I just want to be part of a solution of something// and make a contribution."
Creative Synergy Media | Instagram
Bodied by Benzii uses food, fitness to make Philly healthier
Twenty-five-year-old Benzii Diaz is a certified personal trainer with her own full-time training and food delivery business.
Her business is Bodied by Benzii and it's also her life motto.
Diaz grew up in North Carolina and is a child trafficking survivor, she says she found healing through being good to her body.
Over the pandemic Diaz discovered she had a food allergy and is now gluten-free and dairy-free.
The idea for her sister company, Bodied Mealz on Wheelz, started from her own food allergy discovery.
Bodied Mealz on Wheelz is a food delivery service for people who have food sensitivities such as vegan, keto, gluten, etc. Diaz is also using her program to help those in low-income communities.
In addition to the food delivery options, Bodied Mealz on Wheelz also offers cold-pressed juices, meal prep and groceries.
Diaz recently launched an app where her clients can place orders and she is currently raising money to purchase a van to transport groceries.
Bodied by Benzii | Bodied Mealz on Wheelz
Delivery Guys helps minority-owned restaurants get orders out fast
Food delivery orders increased dramatically during the pandemic.
A local delivery driver took a chance on starting his own service but chose to focus specifically on the minority-owned restaurant communities of North and West Philadelphia.
Victor Tejada developed a more individualized, customer experience-oriented service with his new Delivery Guys brand. The app helps small business owners keep more profit, and employs drivers in the communities where they live.
Delivery Guys | Instagram | Facebook
Mexibike spins wheels, makes deals for bike needs in South Philly
Tucked away on 9th Street in the heart of the Italian market, Mexibike is a small shop doing big business.
Before owner Maria Lozano immigrated to the U.S. from Puebla, Mexico, her first husband had a bike shop there - which he continued when they came to Philadelphia in 2005.
After he passed away, Lozano decided to keep the shop going, and now carries on the tradition of serving primarily the Spanish-speaking community.
The shop is known for speedy repairs, low prices, and a wide inventory of new and used bicycles.
1139 S. 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147
hours: Mon-Sat, 1pm-8pm Wed 1pm-6pm
Omar Guzman shares passion for soccer with kids in Reading
Omar Guzman grew up in Reading, Pa. after his family came to the United States from Mexico.
He credits his parents for giving him a better life by raising him in the U.S. Part of that better life was giving him a chance to play soccer.
Since Guzman was 8 years old ,he has played organized soccer. It quickly became his passion and led him to a list of accolades including, helping Reading High School win their first District Championship, playing collegiately and getting professional spells in Portugal and Spain.
His latest journey in the world of soccer has been a grassroots campaign to bring the Reading Recreational Soccer Program back to life.
According to the 2020 census, Reading has the highest percentage of Latinos of any municipality in Pennsylvania at 69%. Guzman hopes to provide this next generation with an affordable, educational and fun experience playing the game he loves.
Through his connections in the game he has worked with local clubs, the mayor of Reading and local businesses to provide equipment and city parks for the kids to play.
Reading Recreational Commission Soccer | Facebook | Instagram
320 South 3rd Street, Reading, PA 19602
Gift of Life organ transplant helps save local EMT, single mom
Thirty-five-year-old Stacey Rodenas was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 11.
After graduating high school, she became an EMT, wanting to help people in their time of need.
When Rodenas became pregnant with her son, her diabetes triggered complications.
The high blood pressure combined with her spiking and sinking blood sugar levels wreaked havoc on her kidneys.
Howard M. Nathan, President and CEO of the Gift of Life Donor Program explains, "Those who suffer from diabetes often have kidney failure from their diabetes."
By the time her son turned 6, Rodenas had to go on kidney dialysis
Rodenas was added to the Gift of Life donor list, in need of new kidneys and a pancreas.
According to Gift of Life, there are about 450 Hispanics in our region in need of organ transplants.
"In fact, about 80% of those people waiting in the Hispanic community are waiting for a kidney," continues Howard.
Just one day after she was put on the list, Rodenas got the call.
"At 11:30 p.m. at night, I answered the phone and they said, "Hey, this is Jefferson transplant." I was extremely shocked because I'm like, this is not happening, you expect to wait on the list for a significant amount of time," Rodenas exclaims.
Now, Rodenas is able to live the normal life she's always dreamed of.
"My son got his mom back. We were able to go to Disney," Rodenas pronounces.
She doesn't know the donor, but says she often thinks about them.