How Round Lake 'Supermom' helps parents in Spanish-speaking community
For those who know her now as a "Supermom" and a rock in the Round Lake Area School District 116 community, it's hard to imagine Merced Alfaro as she was when she first arrived in Round Lake.
Alfaro now spends countless hours serving the community by volunteering in organizations, making food for children and families in need, and offering advice and help to parents new to the Round Lake area's Spanish-speaking community.
But when she was new to the area herself, Alfaro would spend most of the day isolated in her home watching TV and being too nervous about her limited English-language skills to go outside and engage with people.
When her son began having trouble adjusting to life at Round Lake High School and began asking her questions, she decided she needed to overcome her fears and get involved.
"I needed to do something different, not just for my son, but for all his friends," Alfaro said.
So Alfaro began getting involved in the school community and slowly began meeting other parents, making connections and bringing their concerns to school administrators.
Still, Alfaro might never have reached her potential had Maria Colunga not come to town.
Colunga joined the school district as a parent liaison 15 years ago.
She said Alfaro was still timid when they first met. Alfaro would say she couldn't volunteer because of her problems speaking English and Colunga would tell her that she could help by moving boxes or handing out flyers.
Later, when Alfaro would say she was nervous about speaking with an accent, Colunga told her to just do her best.
"One by one, we got rid of the barriers in her mind and now she's unstoppable," Colunga said.
Alfaro was named a Community Hero by Univision in 2013, was recognized with the Award of Excellence by the Illinois State Board of Election in 2014 and was presented the Woman of Achievement in Education Award from the YWCA in 2017.
Despite the honors and attention, Alfaro continues to be the type who leads by example. Colunga said Alfaro is like having a walking parenting guru in the community.
"She is giving parenting lessons at the bus stop, after church, walking around," Colunga said with a laugh.
Ma Guadalupe Patino, one of many district parents whom Alfaro has helped over the years, said Alfaro fights to bring programs and services for all the children in the community.
"She is showing us all the time how to work as a team with the administrators, parents and the students," Patino said. "Our students have a lot of dreams and with the resources and support that she advocates for, our students can now achieve those dreams."
Alfaro and Colunga recently met a Spanish-speaking parent who'd just moved to town in the lobby of the Round Lake 116 district building. The women introduced themselves and made the sort of positive first connection that Alfaro herself didn't have.
Alfaro said she can't imagine returning to how she used to be.
"I can't imagine. I never see my TV these days, it is off all day," Alfaro said. "I like helping my community more. I want to help and give something back. I receive more than I give."