Carmen and Ivonne: Empowered to Give Back

For the past forty years, La Casa de Don Pedro has been present for families facing tough obstacles by giving them opportunities to make better choices.  This is a story of one family that has come full circle.  La Casa was present for them forty years ago when they needed the help, and today, they are fully empowered and back in the community striving to make it a better place.

Carmen moved to Newark’s Lower Broadway neighborhood from Puerto Rico in 1970 in hopes of better opportunities for her and her family.  She had her start at La Casa working for eight years with the day care program when La Casa was just a fledgling neighborhood organization. Someone at La Casa saw her potential, and through La Casa’s support and encouragement, Carmen attended Bloomfield College, obtained a certificate in Early Childhood Education, became a Lead Teacher and was able to do more for her family.  This initial support and guidance was instrumental in inspiring Carmen to continue on a path of advancement.

Carmen’s older three-family home was in major disrepair but had inadequate income to address the many code violations. La Casa’s weatherization program provided much needed help, helped qualify her and her tenants for the program, and completely renovated the home’s heating system with a new boiler, heating units, and a complete exterior paint job and porch rehab.  Had La Casa not been there, she might have given up on owning her own home.

Carmen’s daughter Ivonne also has fond memories of her time as a La Casa day care kid parading as the Virgin Mary during a holiday parade.  But as she grew up, Ivonne dealt with a neighborhood with poverty, crime and drug activity threatening her quality of life.  Like other neighborhood kids, she found herself failing or dropping out of school.  But, with her mother’s encouragement, Ivonne redirected her life, attended summer school, and successfully graduated from Barringer High School.

Carmen’s career flourished finding positions in social work with the state, taking advantage of educational opportunities available to her.  Pregnant and with two young children, Carmen would get up at 5am, prepare dinner, go to work, come home at 5pm, heat up dinner, and feed her family to get to night school on time, lugging her children with her.  Carmen continued college part-time and never gave up on her education.  20 years later she graduated from Montclair State with her proud (and grown) children beside her.

Ivonne was drawn to the police force and for the past 20 years has moved up the ranks, addressing street crime issues of gangs and narcotics, the same problems that threatened her and her family as a child.  Her determination reflects the perseverance and diligence of her mother working her way up from being a day care staff person at La Casa to a respected employee of two state agencies.  In January 2012, Ivonne was promoted to Captain of Newark’s 2nd Precinct that oversees all of Newark’s North Ward, including the streets where she grew up.  Carmen says of her daughter Ivonne, “When you’re a fighter, nothing is going to stop you.”

Looking ahead, Ivonne sees two critical needs to help the neighborhood flourish again: Investments in homeownership by transforming blighted and foreclosed properties into homes people can afford, and providing engaging alternatives for youth to keep them out of the streets.

Forty years later, Ivonne is back in the community she still calls home, and now works with La Casa and the neighborhood associations we support to identify crime spots to make the streets safer.  We still continue that same weatherization program that helped Carmen when she really needed it.  Carmen recently retired, but plans to return to La Casa’s early childhood classrooms as a volunteer.

UPDATE:   In March 2014, Ivonne was promoted to Chief of the Newark Police Department. La Casa de Don Pedro congratulates Ivonne on this tremendous accomplishment.




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