Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Where Mentoring, Not Donations, Makes a Difference for Immigrant Families

October 23, 2014
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Where Mentoring, Not Donations, Makes a Difference for Immigrant Families
The Sandovals help to support Neighbors Link, a center that helps support immigrants, in Stamford, Connecticut. Neighbors Link via Facebook
In a city of stark economic contrasts, people who realized their American dreams are giving back.

In diverse Stamford, Conn., 40 percent of the residents were born in another country — and as is typical of first-generation immigrants, many work in the service industry or manual labor jobs. But in this area with a very high cost-of-living index — 141.3 compared to the U.S. average of 100, according to City-Data.com — money earned from a low-paying job doesn’t go very far.

But several Latino families that have managed to climb to the top are helping out newcomers any way they can.

Maria Isabel and Oscar Sandoval moved to Stamford 20 years ago and started a restaurant and a landscaping business. After years of hard work, they now employ 60 people. More importantly, they mentor immigrants seeking to start their own businesses. “It wasn’t easy,” Sandoval tells Alexandra Campbell Howe of NBC News. “I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I mentor others who are starting out, and let them know about my experience and help as many people as I can.”

Oscar Sandoval advised Ecuadorian immigrant Alex Pipantasi when he was starting his automotive repair shop. “He gave me valuable advice on how to treat clients and employees,” Pipantasi says.

The Sandovals also donate money to Neighbors Link, a center that helps immigrants adjust to life in America, learn English, educate their children and themselves, find jobs and connect to others.

Catalina Semper Horak, a Colombian immigrant who co-founded the center and serves as its executive director, says that the stark income differences visible in Stamford inspired the organization’s creation. “It’s an issue where there is a very direct connection between the haves and the have nots,” she says. “So supporting this segment of the population, making sure they have a place where they feel comfortable….was an idea that resonated with a lot of people.”

Sarita Hanley, a co-founder of Neighbors Link, emphasizes that while donations help immigrants settle in, the kind of mentoring that the Sandovals provide is invaluable. “Money is always necessary, but rolling up your sleeves is as important, sometimes even more.”

MORE: Neighborhood Centers Provide Immigrants an Instant Community

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