Born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, Monica Lopez never planned to leave her home, but when her first child was born, her and her husband’s lives drastically changed. Her son, Francisco Javier Jr., was born in May 1982 with cerebral palsy and at the time, Lopez could not find any services in Mexico for people with special needs. Like many immigrants, Lopez and her husband decided to move to America in search of a better life for their child. So in 1987, while pregnant with their second child, Lopez and her family boarded a plane in Mexico and landed in Milwaukee.
Her son was not diagnosed with cerebral palsy until she found a doctor in the U.S., but even in this country, there were not many services available for those with special needs in the 1980s. At the time, Lopez didn’t realize that she would eventually be a leader in the community, helping to develop a better array of resources for families.
Lopez explains the move to America being one of the hardest things she’s ever done. She had to leave the rest of her family behind and start a new life in a place where she didn’t know the language, culture or school systems. It was extremely difficult for her to find the necessary resources for her son, but with the help of a family friend, she was eventually connected with the right doctors and therapists. Those initial years in America were often isolating because she spent much of her time at home with her kids while her husband worked long hours.
The family got used to their new lives in Milwaukee, but in 1992 their fifth child, Ivan, was born with cerebral palsy. It wasn’t until then that Lopez learned English, got a drivers’ license and started getting involved with local organizations. She became a parent mentor with the nonprofit Healthy Transitions, visiting hospitals to talk with parents that had children with special needs. ”Being involved was helping me cope and find balance. I didn’t want to stay in the home all the time,” she says. While Lopez was preparing families for what to expect and where to find assistance, she realized that many of them had that same feeling of isolation that she experienced. The parents felt like they were the only ones going through hardships and didn’t know where to go for help.
So in 1997, Lopez started a support group for families who have children with special needs, showing them that they were not alone. After 10 years, the group became a non-profit called Alianza Latina Aplicando Soluciones (ALAS), specializing in aiding families whose native language is not English. The nonprofit provides trainings for families, hosts youth events and connects people with schools and doctors specific to their needs.“At one time, I was receiving a lot of services for my kids, and now I want to give those things to other families,” says Lopez. Motivated by her love for her children, Lopez has dedicated her life to increase the services available for children with special needs in the Milwaukee area.
Learn more at alianzalatinawi.org.
Read the article on the Shepherd Express.