At 18, Alex Coreas came to the United States. It was very difficult to leave his family, but, under the circumstances, it was really his only hope.
His native El Salvador was in shambles. The country had been torn apart by civil war for many years. In the aftermath, his homeland descended into anarchy with violent gangs ruling cities and towns. They demanded “rent” for protection and terrorized the populace.
“It was getting really bad,” says Alex. “It was common to see a dead body in the street.”
As he was coming of age in his late teens, the gangs started to recruit Alex. But he wanted nothing to do with them, aspiring instead to raising a family and having a business career. So he rebuffed their advances, a response that put him in great danger.
Then came a terrible earthquake that caused widespread damage in El Salvador. The United States came in to provide aid. For some, there was a chance to be granted a special work permit to come to the US. Alex jumped at the chance.
So with a US visa in hand, Alex came to America. He joined a boyhood friend, who was living in Fort Wayne. He found work doing maintenance and construction jobs, always supporting himself along the way. Eventually, he became a commercial carpenter, which is still his full-time job.
“There are many like Alex who come to the US legally every year as refugees and asylum seekers,” says Luz Ostrognai, Alex’s Case Manager at Catholic Charities. “Because these people are living in the direst of circumstances, they typically have a great appreciation for being here.”
As the prospects of returning home diminished because of continued unrest there, he made the decision to stay in the United States and apply for his green card. Catholic Charities helped Alex navigate the labyrinth of red tape. With a steady work history and his proficiency with English, he was granted permanent residence status.
Day by day, Alex’s appreciation for his new country grew. The freedoms and opportunities he experienced here were in such sharp contrast to the oppressive environment in his native El Salvador.
“Compared to my country, there is no hardship here,” he says. “If you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead.”
Ever thankful for his new lease on life, he wanted to show his appreciation for his new country by serving in the military. So, once he received his green card, he became a member of the Army National Guard.
“My respect for my new country is big,” he says. “It’s been 16 years, but every day I still feel a great sense of gratitude for being here.”
He has served in The Guard for the last four years as a firefighter and medical first responder. Once a month, he spends a three-day weekend at Camp Atterbury in southern Indiana.
Eventually, with help of Catholic Charities, Alex became a US citizen. Again they helped him with all the paperwork.
“We see people like Alex all the time,” says Luz. “They work very hard and make great contributions to our community. They are such an inspiration.”
Alex is married and is the father of two children. He is also a homeowner, living on the south side of Fort Wayne. One of his ambitions is to build his own house so several years ago he and his wife acquired a piece of property. He and some friends recently poured the foundation and will soon begin building their new home.
With all the opportunity Alex has realized here in the United States, his gratitude for this country and for Catholic Charities is always close at hand.
“They are extremely good people,” he says of Luz and her colleagues. “They have helped me get my new life and be successful in what I do.”