Ana Karen is a strong mother of three who looks out for her family, her neighbors, and her community. She arrived in the Roaring Fork Valley in 2008 when she was 20 years old, leaving her young daughter in the care of her sister and mother in Mexico. Ana Karen joined her father and her brothers in Glenwood Springs and began to work as a house cleaner, providing both for herself and her family in Mexico. Even though she was working full time, she created space for learning. When her father gave her a brochure for Colorado Mountain College, she enrolled in English classes.

“I like to learn…I have the desire to continue learning and to speak English perfectly well. Even if it takes me fifty years, I have to do it!”

Her passion for learning led not only to a foundation in English, but also love; Ana Karen met her future husband in that English class.

Ana Karen stopped working after becoming pregnant with their first son, Christopher. Her world became smaller, and she felt somewhat isolated at home with her child in a remote, secluded neighborhood in Spring Valley. She found Valley Settlement by way of a chance encounter. While out on an errand in Glenwood Springs with Christopher, she was invited into a Learning with Love class and decided to enroll. After four classes, Ana Karen and Chris learned the routines and she enjoyed incorporating those practices into their home life. “As a mom, I wasn’t much of a reader. But since I started with Learning with Love, they have taught us the importance of reading to and playing with our children every day.”

Through the Learning with Love program, they met other families who helped develop their sense of belonging to a community. Ana Karen enjoyed the safe, nonjudgmental atmosphere of the classes. She loved being able to connect with other young parents who, like herself, had immigrated to the area. “Actually, that was the beauty. That we could talk with more people, with more children, more parents and connect with each other, and [say], ‘Well, you don’t know [something], and I don’t know either,’ and then learn together.” Ana Karen moved on to El Busesito Preschool when Christopher turned three, and later her youngest son Joshua enrolled.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck in March, Ana Karen’s husband lost his job and was without work for several months. Previously, they hadn’t been in a position to save money, so this time was very difficult for them. “Now, thank God, my husband is working again, but Valley Settlement helped us a lot. They gave us so much support, and LaMedichi supported us as well. There have been many blessings that have come from being in these programs.”

Many in Ana Karen’s secluded neighborhood also needed support during the pandemic, and they struggled to find available resources. From her connection with Valley Settlement, Ana Karen knew how and where to find emergency funding and food distribution centers. She helped her neighbors secure needed support for their own families, and became an important navigator for her neighborhood in a time of crisis.

Ana Karen’s experiences with Valley Settlement also laid the foundation for her to become a child care provider in her community. After years of babysitting for her neighbors, she took the initiative to build her capacity as an educator by enrolling and graduating from Valley Settlement’s Family, Friends & Neighbors program. Ana Karen reached out and enrolled in Raising a Reader, and helped bring books into her neighbors’ homes. In pursuit of her dream to become a professional child care provider, she is currently enrolled in the Child Development Associate (CDA) course with Valley Settlement, as well as the Expanding Quality in Infant Toddler Care (EQIT) course with Early Childhood Network.

Ana Karen has become a leader in her neighborhood, and her passion for learning and personal growth have strengthened her family, her community, and those lucky enough to call her a friend.