Empowered to Inspire

How Maria changed her life and created opportunities to help others through CSS’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Center.

Maria, with a kind heart and a strong desire to learn, left Mexico in 2019 and made Columbus, Ohio, her new home. English wasn’t her first language, but she was determined to find a supportive community and the resources she needed to improve her family’s life. Like many immigrants, Maria faced numerous challenges during her transition. Simple tasks like grocery shopping or navigating public transportation became obstacles due to the language barrier. Cultural differences led to feelings of isolation, and securing stable employment was an uphill battle. 

Despite these hardships, Maria was resilient. And her resolve to make a better life for herself, her husband, and their young son would soon bear fruit in ways no one expected.

The Our Lady of Guadalupe Center (OLGC) was established by Catholic Social Services 25 years ago to address the growing need for cultural connection and support within the expanding Latino community in Columbus. The center offers essential services such as ESL classes, family support, entrepreneurial and legal aid workshops, access to a culturally appropriate food pantry, and more–all while fostering a sense of community and embracing diversity, neighbor to neighbor.

The moment Maria stepped inside OLGC, she found something missing from her journey. She was welcomed with open arms. OLGC’s food pantry eased her burdens, ensuring her family never went hungry. But it was the center’s Mujer de Hoy (Women of Today) program that offered her hope and a renewed sense of purpose. 

This program is a transformative initiative that empowers women to discover their potential, contribute actively to their communities, and grow as individuals with a strong sense of identity and voice. Through a variety of workshops, support services, and community activities, the program provides participants with the skills and confidence needed to navigate their new environment effectively. It focuses on personal development, encouraging women to learn more about themselves and their capacities, thereby fostering a supportive network where they can thrive both personally and communally.

She found solace in the community of women, each with their own stories of hardship and perseverance. Maria didn’t just participate; she stepped into a leadership role, using her experiences to help others. 

“It’s amazing to be able to help other women grow and rediscover themselves,” Maria says. “I get to help them improve their life by motivating them to make positive changes and create good habits.”

“When I think about Maria,” says Clara Brown, OLGC’s program manager, “she’s like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. She started shy and overwhelmed but revealed an astounding strength. Now she’s flying.” Volunteering became a life-changing connection to a supportive community. Through her involvement, she saw the power of uplifting others on similar paths. Every smile, every story, every shared moment of success and sorrow reaffirmed her decision to give back.

“Volunteering has been very rewarding,” Maria reflects. “It’s given me strength, knowing I’m not alone and that I can make a difference.” Today, Maria is an inspiration in her neighborhood and beyond, a testament to transformation through compassion and community support.

“She’s always working toward becoming better, in every way,” Brown says. “It’s been incredible to watch.” 

Leveraging her experiences and embracing her leadership, Maria continues to inspire others as she works toward becoming a coach through OLGC’s curriculum. “I am proof that with the right support,” she says, “we can overcome our darkest moments and emerge stronger than ever.”