Round Lake’s Star: Martina Rocha

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Picture captured by Ana Hernandez

Martina Rocha quickly posing for a picture before heading out to speak to her fellow students at her Together for Children Network meeting. Rocha works hard to improve the lives of children in Round Lake and in Mexico.

Ana Hernandez, Staff writer

Toy cars, dolls, diapers, and cribs can be found all over the house. Colorful pictures and ABC posters hang up on the wall where 47-year-old Martina Rocha’s living room should be. She patiently sits with a group of kids, teaching them the numbers one through ten ever so slowly until they hit one hundred. Daycare provider Rocha works for people with different business hours, and thus opens her door and receives her first client at 5am She has been up feeding and changing infants and toddlers, as well as making sure her young charges exercise their brains too. The day is filled with worksheets and projects and Rocha’s passion shines through every minute until 9 p.m. hits and she finally says goodbye to her last client. From converting her house into a haven for youngsters to devoting beyond 12 hours of her day to their care, it’s clear Rocha has a passion for kids. But really, her compassion and generosity goes far beyond her in-home daycare.  

Rocha has taken part in a lot of initiatives that help not only the Round Lake community, but the Lake County community as well. She is also the founder of the Together For Childhood Network, a nonprofit organization that works to get in-home childcare providers educated, recognized, and certified by the state. Rocha started the Together For Childhood Network to give other immigrants a way to succeed in the United States. She remembers when she first came to the U.S. and how isolated and confused she felt. She decided to create a small program that would give other immigrants what she so desperately sought: attention and love. She decided that she would host meetings so that other immigrants could learn English and learn ways to start a business caring for children.

As the years passed, however, the Together For Childhood Network became so much more. The program now offers CPR and first aid classes, as well as training in obtaining various accreditation and licensure for childcare providers.  “The program was done to help those who didn’t speak English,” Rocha said, marveling at the fact that .the educational meetings became so popular and useful to childcare providers across Lake County, that it turned into a state-approved organization with monthly meetings.

“Nine years ago, I started off with just a group, a very small group, to help others learn English,” Rocha said. “Now [it’s] this [useful] organization approved by Illinois state.” Rocha’s organization has been up and running for over seven years now.  It is meant not only for daycare providers, but also for anyone willing to learn in the community.

“She brings to them the education they need to continue to run their business in Lake County,” said Maria Lopez, also a bilingual helper and a children’s worker. “She’s a big community organizer up there, and she’s very inspirational, and she’s filling in the role for those who don’t speak English.”

The program meets every first Tuesday of the month, which gives Rocha time to find speakers to do the presentations. Speakers are usually involved with children, love their job, and have all state-mandated licensure. 

“I worry about the children from the community,” Rocha said. “If we learn from the experience people have gone through, then we will avoid it or know a solution to solve it. I do this to protect the children and be sure that they will be safe. We’re trying to involve not just children care providers, but parents and other people in the community.”

It may seem like Rocha couldn’t possibly have any more room on her plate, but she has also been hosting a regular fundraising program to help families in need in Mexico.  The fundraiser is called Ayudame a Ayudar, which translates to “Help me help.” The fundraiser was started in Round Lake, and it was made to collect money and buy food to send out to those living in Mexico who couldn’t afford food.

“My mom, niece, and sister go around looking for people who are in need of food,” Rocha said. Her family usually sends pictures and videos of the struggling families so Rocha can promote them in the states and collect money to help them.  

“It’s hard,” Rocha said when asked about her fundraising activities. “It’s hard when people don’t really give enough attention. It’s tough and depressing seeing these people suffer, knowing something can be done to prevent this, but nothing can be stopped when no one wants to help.” Once Rocha collects enough money, she sends it to her female relatives so that they may distribute it among the different families.Rocha holds out hope that her fundraising efforts will go further with each year and she and her family will be able to touch many lives in Mexico. “If we still get the support by the people and spread the word, then I am sure we will make it far,” she said.

It’s 9 p.m. and Rocha sits in her living room play area, quietly working with the last three children of the day when  the doorbell rings.  Rocha waves goodbye as they exit the door. She would like nothing more than to go upstairs and rest, but her to-do list is neverending: she still has to clean up after the kids’ mess, work on preparing the next Together for Childhood Network meeting, and she has to check in with her mom to see if there are any new families that need assistance from Ayudame a Ayudar. For 12 years, Rocha has maintained this busy, exhausting schedule, but her passion for helping others keeps her going.