Sometimes, we meet people in life for a reason. Here at the Iowa City Moms Blog, we had one of those moments at our Health Fair & Family Day in July. One of our sponsors at the event was the Children’s Center for Therapy, and this was our first time meeting this amazing organization. And we are so glad we did! After chatting with Matt (center director) after the event, our conversation led to their Hispanic support group called “Grupo Manantial”. Little did he know, it just so happens that I have two degrees in Spanish and teach Spanish and Latin American Literature! What a great fit, and what an excellent program for local moms! I immediately got in touch with the leader of Grupo Manantial, Dayrin Lovan. Dayrin agreed to meet with me and tell me how the group started, what they do together, and fill me in on their special project that they are working on at the moment. I was so excited to meet with this amazing group of Hispanic moms and learn more about what they are doing to support one another in their journey of motherhood in Iowa City!
What is “Manantial”?
Translated as “a natural spring”, this group could not have a better name: it is flowing with life, love, and support from one mom to another. Just what we LOVE here at the Iowa City Moms Blog! The group was born about eight years ago. Dayrin moved to Iowa City from Guatemala nearly 20 years ago, and ended up in Iowa City for her husband’s job at the U of I. She started bringing her son (who has a diagnosis of autism) to the Children’s Center for his therapy sessions. She then met Jen, a social worker on site at the center, and they began discussing the need for a support group for the numerous Spanish-speaking moms who brought their children there for therapy. Many of them spoke little to no English, and with that language barrier added to the difficulties of raising children with disabilities, these moms needed each other more than they knew. They started meeting at the Children’s Center, just 4 moms getting together and talking about their lives and their children and how they could help each other.
Fast forward eight years, and this group has flourished and poured out onto so many others, just like the natural spring its named after. They now host their support group twice a month (focusing mainly on mothers of children ages newborn to five years old), and they are proud to report that they are now reaching 35-40 families in the community on a regular basis. And do NOT underestimate the power of these mamas; they are not just getting together to speak in their native tongue and eat snacks. Dayrin and the other moms arrange informative, supportive talks from local experts for each meeting, and these moms are literally on the edge of their seat waiting for this knowledge to be imparted on them! (Believe me, I saw it with my own two eyes!) From local business owners, to medical professionals, to social workers and dental hygienists, this group brings in some amazing role models and supportive mentors for their fellow members. It was literally amazing to watch.
Before meeting with the other moms and talking about their special project, I asked Dayrin to answer one simple question for me: what has the Grupo Manantial come to mean for her? “Many of us don’t have our family and friends here, they are very far away. We can relate to each other, and not just as Hispanic women or as women with special needs children, but as moms. It is an opportunity to get to know each other, to bring our talents, and to learn together and give each other power.”
And believe you me, these are some powerful women. As Dayrin noted, they are hardworking women who want to continue moving forward in life, not sitting still. For that reason, they have been working on an extra special project for quite some time now. In June of this year, Manantial was lucky enough to be sponsored by the Dream Center, who came in for a special ten-week study session with the ladies to help them prepare for their GED exams, a huge goal for many of the moms. The Dream Center offered free daycare ALL day long, every day, for the whole ten weeks. This, in the end, was the biggest asset for these moms: not only is it hard to find the time to study for a hard exam, but there’s always the added stress of having to pay someone to watch your children while you attempt to get it done. As they all told me, “we no longer had an excuse”. The studying had to be done.
Although a few moms were ready to take the GED exam at the end of the ten-week session, many did not feel ready just yet. And here is where the inspiration of this group truly begins. As one member, Maria Trinidad (they call her “Trini”), achieved her goal of graduation (as well as their leader, Dayrin), she volunteered to host tutoring sessions at the Children’s Center for the women who had yet to achieve this common goal they shared. “That’s what it’s all about”, Trini told me, “to have a role. Not to do it alone, but to realize that we all grow together”.
And so, I think there is no one better to explain this “special project” of Manantial than the ladies themselves…
WHO is Manantial?
As I watched Trini give a math lesson to the rest of the mothers that day, my heart swelled. Just as Dayrin said, this has nothing to do with the language they speak, or what “problems” their children have. This is about being a mom, being a woman, and having a goal. After their intense (seriously!) math session, I sat down with some of the ladies to talk about their experience with Manantial and their journey to the GED. Here’s what they had to say:
“I had actually tried to take the exam before, but the classes were never offered in Spanish. After graduating, I am proud to say that I could do it, and I want to instill that feeling in my children.” Trini and her family moved here from Mexico 8 years ago. Mom to Cristian (diagnosed with ADD; 8 years old) and his younger brother.
“I entered the group in 2010. I like how they bring in people to help us learn to live with special children. In my situation, I cannot work, and as a housewife it is difficult sometimes to convince my husband to accept change. We come from a machismo society, and the thought of me being gone all hours of the day studying was unheard of. I am taking the GED to perfect my English, and to hopefully someday be in a professional setting speaking English. Before Manantial, I suffered from anxiety and depression. When I got here, I realized that I was not alone.” Griselda and her family moved to the US 12 years ago from Chihuahua, Mexico. She is mom to Rodrigo (her oldest; diagnosed autistic) and his younger siblings, 17 and 16 years old.
“I was in a complete state of depression. When I came here, I felt so much calmer, I felt better. The hardest part about studying for the GED, for me, is the reading and the math. I am taking it because I would like to get a job.” Perla and her family moved here from Mexico 13 years ago. She has two children, Cristina (11) and Ethan (5). Ethan comes to the Children’s Center for Occupational Speech Therapy.
For Marta (mother of two from Mexico), her answer was short and sweet: “I wanted to know what my child had. I hadn’t realized it yet, and this group helped me to be able to say it out loud, what my child had.” Powerful, powerful words.
Speaking of which…the most powerful moment of that day was about to happen. I spoke for a few moments with the entire group about what an amazing job they are doing, and how grateful I am to share their story. I heard a few whispers, and turned to see that there was one more mom who wanted to tell her story. Little did I know…
“There are no words. When your child is born, and you know something is wrong, there are no words. (she stops to wipe her tears, as do many other mothers in the room, myself included) By chance, in Fareway one day, I ran into one of the ladies and she asked about my son’s condition. I didn’t want to come to the group. But what I got from this group, is friendship. This group is not about the fact that we speak Spanish, or where we came from, it is about the fact that our children are special.” Erica is from the United States, but speaks Spanish as her first language as her parents are from Mexico. She is mother to three, and her three year old son has a severe case (type 3) of Osteogenesis Imperfecta (also known as “brittle bone disease”). After Erica spoke, the other mothers wiped their tears and told me that she had never truly shared her story before.
How to Learn More
If today’s post has inspired you, please visit the Manantial website to learn more about this group, and share it with your friends and family. Maybe even give them a “like” on Facebook. This group is VERY active in the Iowa City community, and they are always willing to give back! They sell tamales in October (you may have seen this on our Facebook page!), they collect clothing donations in May for a special garage sale to send the kids to Adventureland in the summer, and they do an EXTRA SPECIAL program at Christmas, which we will be filling you in on soon! Watch for details, you could be a big help in their Christmas this year! Let’s show some Iowa City mom-love for these wonderful ladies and their beautiful children!
A special thank you to Grupo Manantial and the Children’s Center for Therapy for letting me invade your space for a few days. What a blessing. And don’t you worry, we aren’t done with you yet!
All quotes have been translated from Spanish to English by Sara Meehan; if you’d like any of the official quotes (originally given in Spanish), please read the Spanish copy of this post here: