Dominican Immigrant Gives Back to Her Massachusetts’ Community

Carmen Tejeda, Resident Ambassador, North Shore CDC

In 2014, Carmen Tejeda was a single mom and second-year business major in Santo Domingo — but on what she now calls a youthful whim she decided to drop out of college and move to the United States to give her infant son a better life. 
Tejeda traveled to Boston, where a friend worked in a restaurant. But she immediately regretted her decision. “It was February, and all the trees were bare. Coming from the Caribbean, it looked to me like it was the end of the world,” she says. 
With limited English, she struggled to find a job or a place to live. After giving birth to a daughter, she moved with her two young children into a crowded homeless shelter in Lynn and worked a number of low-paid jobs, sometimes earning as little as $50 a week. 
While in the shelter, volunteers directed Tejeda to the North Shore Community Development Coalition (NSCDC), which provides affordable housing and social programs in low-income neighborhoods. Through NSCDC, she was able to enroll in free English classes and apply for an apartment where the rent is capped at 30 percent of the tenant’s income. When a unit became available, it changed everything. 
“That was when my life turned around,” Tejeda says. “My kids were so happy — they looked at me and said ‘Mami, we finally have a home!’” 
Tejeda went on to marry a U.S. citizen with whom she had a third baby last year. She is now seeking an immigration waiver that would allow her to gain lawful status in the United States. “Once I have my papers, I hope I’ll be able to work hard and open a restaurant,” she says. 
Until then, Tejeda can’t lawfully work in the United States. Instead, she keeps busy as an NSCDC volunteer, helping other immigrants to connect with affordable housing, language classes, and other services. “When I came, I was so disoriented, but I encountered many people who helped me. Now I want to return the favor,” she says. “I tell them it’s difficult, but you don’t have to be afraid.” 

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