When Maria Carolina Ojeda first came to Canada as an immigrant and single mom, she struggled.
“There was a time when I didn’t have milk in the fridge,” she said.
But the one thing she heard, over and over again, from her teachers and mentors was that “you came to Canada to succeed, not to survive.”
That became Ojeda’s motto, as she studied and became a successful financial advisor.
And when she and a friend began working on a way to assist recent immigrants who were struggling to become established, it became the motto of their new organization, called I’m an Immigrant.
As an advisor, she said, “I met a lot of families not in a good financial situation.”
Ojeda was inspired by the idea of providing something positive, welcoming — a boost.
She initially heard about a program that collected donations of new shoes and made them available to immigrants. Ojeda wanted to take it further.
“I started fundraising with my clients,” she said, raising about $2,200 in one week to purchase toys for the children of immigrants. Through her connections in her adopted country, she also received a donation of food.
“It was God’s purpose,” she said. “From one little thing, everything started falling together.”
Ojeda said she was “surprised” by the level of support and generosity from the public and donors. “It was amazing.”
On Dec. 16, Ojeda and members of I’m an Immigrant held a party in the Zima Room of the Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library to distribute the gifts. There was coffee, juice, Timbits and chocolate to welcome guests, as families were invited to come through and select shoes, food items and a toy for each child aged one to 18.
“It’s just to give to somebody who is going through changes in their career, providing something to the kids,” she said. “It’s for everybody – women, kids, men.”
Her son, Diego, was among the helpers wearing I’m an Immigrant T-shirts that read, "You came to Canada to succeed, not to survive" on the back. Asked if he was proud of his mom, Diego smiled and answered, “Yes! There’s a lot here.”
Ojeda isn’t a millionaire — “Yet!” she said — but she wanted to give back and help those who, like her, came to Canada for a better life and may be struggling.
“I want to ensure every kid has a toys this Christmas," she said.
I'm an Immigrant is in the process of seeking foundation status in Canada. In the meantime, Ojeda hopes the organization will continue to inspire and assist newcomers.