Immigrants And Refugees
Neediest Cases

Taekwondo Gave 2 Children an Outlet. It Gave Their Mother a Break.

Photo by Sasha Maslov, The New York Times

Frances Ramirez was juggling three jobs with her responsibilities as a single parent when she got help paying for her children’s lessons.

Both Frances Ramirez’s children — Edwin, 8, and Emma Jade, 6 — have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, which makes it difficult for them to sit still, focus or follow directions. Often, Ms. Ramirez said, she feels as if she has to fight to get through to them. “There are certain times where I talk to them, and I probably say it a thousand times and they still don’t listen to me,” she said. “I don’t understand them. It’s not something I’m going to understand. It’s just something I have to work with.”

Ms. Ramirez said she wants to teach her children the values she was taught: respect, patience, persistence. But she acknowledges that parenting has changed a lot since she was growing up — when she was afraid of getting into trouble with her own mother. “I don’t want to be too stern on them because I want them to always know they can be themselves,” she said.

When her children asked if they could take taekwondo lessons, she was torn. She thought that learning a martial art could help them with their behavioral issues, but money was tight. Ms. Ramirez, a single mother, usually works three jobs — two in security and one as a home health aide. But she had been forced to take time off after a recent operation on her wrist. “When I saw the price, I thought, ‘I can’t do $200,’” she said. “I was really stressed about it, and then I got the call.”

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, one of the seven organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, told her that it would pay $178 to cover the cost of 12 taekwondo lessons and uniforms at Champions Martial Arts in the East Village. The children started the lessons in November.

“I didn’t even know how to react, it was such a blessing,” she said. Ms. Ramirez first reached out to Catholic Charities about a year and a half ago when she signed Edwin up for Bigs & Littles NYC Mentoring. The program is a Catholic Charities affiliate. Edwin’s temper can get the better of him at times, Ms. Ramirez said. “So I figured having a big brother might help him open up more,” she said, “and having that male role model will help him control his feelings.”

Edwin was paired with a big brother in October 2019. Since then, they have gone on several outings together, including to a skate park, an arcade and the movies. They speak by phone every week, allowing them to connect even when they cannot meet. Ms. Ramirez said the extra support from Catholic Charities helped her get through a particularly challenging year. She spent much of 2019 mourning a beloved aunt who died of leukemia. While she was grieving, Ms. Ramirez was struggling to secure special education services for Emma Jade and helping her adjust to a new school.

“It makes me happy to know I have someone to rely on if I’m dealing with a really big difficulty,” she said, referring to Catholic Charities. “It relieves a lot of stress for me.”

Because Ms. Ramirez cannot afford her own home, she and her children share a one-bedroom apartment with her mother in a public housing complex on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. (Ms. Ramirez is on a waiting list for an apartment.) Tempers tend to run short, especially in the winter, when it is too cold for the children to play outside. The taekwondo lessons have helped by giving Edwin and Emma Jade an outlet for their pent-up energy while allowing their mother to take some much-needed time for herself.

Ms. Ramirez said she has already started to see the effects the lessons are having on her children. Edwin is more patient when he does not master a skill the first time around, and Emma Jade — who has struggled with self-confidence — is slowly learning to believe in herself. “I wasn’t really given the opportunity to spread my wings when I was their age,” Ms. Ramirez said. “I don’t want that to be the case for them.”

Although she has had to defer some of her own dreams, including owning a home and finishing her bachelor’s degree, Ms. Ramirez said that watching her children take to taekwondo has reminded her that the sacrifices she has made have been worth it. “As a parent, the joy you feel every time you see your kid laugh and smile, and also the tears you shed when they amaze you, it’s like nothing else,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Donations to The Neediest Cases Fund may be made online, or with a check or over the phone.

Read the article on The New York Times