Prepare to humble yourself when you come to this country. It doesn’t matter what station of life you came from. If you have to start from the bottom again, embrace it with faith and believe in your capability to make a better life for yourself by your own efforts.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Belina Calderon-Nernberg
Growing up in a country where culture dictates that children are expected to take care of their parents when they’re older, Belina Calderon-Nernberg knew that this was her duty and responsibility. Yet, like most immigrants who came to this country, Belina felt that moving to the United States was the best decision she could make for her family, even though this meant being away from her parents who were now approaching their golden years.
The guilt and sadness of being far away and not being able to take care of her mother was frustrating, but finding a reliable caregiver gave her the peace of mind that her mom was being taken care of by someone who treated her like family.
Shortly after her mom’s passing, Belina started 1Heart Caregiver Services, an in-home care agency that specializes in providing caregiving services to the elderly and other adults who require some assistance in meeting their healthcare needs. 1Heart’s broad range of services include: Companionship, In-Home Care, Alzheimer’s/Dementia Care, 24-hour care, and more.
Today, the burgeoning franchise has ten offices delivering reliable and professional care to every person they care for throughout California and Las Vegas, Nevada, and is eyeing national expansion.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Belina! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Igrew up in a small town in the Philippines. I’m the fifth in a family of 7 children (4 boys and 3 girls). We were all about a year or a couple years apart in age so growing up was pretty fun complete with the scrapes and scratches that came with play time and sibling rivalries as well.
Having a good education was my parent’s gauge for our success. They worked hard to make sure that we all went to the best schools and graduated with college degrees to prepare us for the working world. You can imagine how expensive it was when there were actually 6 of us who were in college at the same time and they had to pay for all of the school expenses.
I grew up seeing my mom, leave the house every morning for work saying her mantra, “Go, Rita Go”. I guess it was her way of pushing herself to go to work every day so she can provide for all of us. I always felt bad that she had to work so hard but never really had her savings build up because there were always tuition fees to be paid.
On weekends, she would ask my sisters and me to help her cook so we “would know how to keep our husbands happy” and on the same breath, she would always remind us, “Make sure that you earn enough money for yourself so you can always stand on your own”.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the United States? Can you tell a story?
There were two events that made me decide to immigrate to the United States. The first was the birth of my first child. When I came to the United States, my husband and I didn’t have any plans to stay for good. But coming from a third world country and seeing the huge difference between the way of life here and the way of life back where I came from, I felt that this is the place where I wanted my son to grow up in. I saw that there were many opportunities to explore here than if we stayed in our little town in the Philippines.
The second event was sometime in 1998, when we decided to move back to the Philippines because we were just not seeing the “American Dream” within our reach. After eight years in the United States, I was stuck in my 9-to-5 job, my husband was in and out of work, our credit card bills never went down to zero and our family was growing. We thought we were better off living the quiet, provincial life in our hometown with all the paid help and my husband running his family’s sugarcane plantation. We had a pretty good life there before we left so we decided to move back.
So, we took all our savings and moved back to start a new life again with our two sons, who were 7 and 2 at that time. Life was good with all the conveniences of having paid helpers, nannies and drivers at our home, but I realized I missed all that I was in the States — a busy working girl and a full-time mom. All of which I enjoyed, but didn’t get to do when we went back. I mean, I became a stay-at-home mom who didn’t even get to do anything for my sons because we had full-time nannies for each of them.
One morning, I woke up to seeing my 7-year-old son still laying in bed half asleep with his nanny gingerly putting on his school uniform, socks and shoes, so he can be ready for school. And I asked myself, “Is this the kind of life I want my kids to grow up in?” At that moment, I made up my mind that I wanted to go back to the States and show my husband that we could have a better life there even without maids and nannies.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the United States? What was that experience like?
I was 24 and newly married when I arrived in the United States. My husband and I came to visit his family who had immigrated to California years before. We had no plans to stay because our life in the Philippines was fairly good. We had the convenience of helpers, a driver, a cook which was common among middle class families in the country.
When we decided to stay, it was quite a humbling experience to do our own laundry, cook and clean after ourselves and our young children. We grew up with nannies who took care of us growing up, but when our own kids came, we had to raise them ourselves.
When we left the Philippines, we were business owners with employees. Here, we had to start from scratch. Even with my husband’s degree in Architecture, his first job in Los Angeles was being a security guard. I was lucky to find a job with a company that petitioned me for a work visa and eventually a green card.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
It helped that my in-laws were already established here when we came. We lived with them initially until we were able to buy our own house.
But I am most thankful to my former employers, Mike and Frank Nozar, who gave me a job and petitioned me for my green card. I worked with them for about 13 years until I found the courage to be my own boss. I would not have done it if not for the encouragement and support that Frank gave me to start my own business.
When I left in 1997 to go back to the Philippines, I remember him asking me “What would make you and your husband come back to live in the United States?”
I answered, “Well, my husband said that he will only come back if we had our own business because he doesn’t want to be an employee here again.”
He looked at me and said, “Then do it. What is it that you want to do and how can I help you?”
It was at that moment that I realized that I had a chance at the American Dream.
I practically started my first company — LA Jobs Employment Agency from my desk while working for his company with his blessing. Without that chance that he gave me, I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to start my own business.
So how are things going today?
Other than getting divorced after 17 years of marriage, I feel very blessed. Life is what I had hoped it would be. I am happily re-married to a wonderful and very supportive gentleman.
When my ex-husband decided to leave the United States in 2008, I struggled for 7½ years raising three kids alone and running four businesses. I had 18-hour days where I had to cram all my roles to the best of my ability: a mom, a dad, and a business owner.
Now, I am reaping the benefits of all that hard work and sacrifices that I made. My kids all grew up to be smart and responsible adults. The businesses that I have are all successful and thriving and I am blessed with really good people who share the same compassion and drive that I have to help others.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
A lot of people come to the United States and later realize that they want to immigrate. And most of them stay illegally because they’re ill-advised or they just don’t know that there are legal ways to immigrate. My company, LA Jobs Employment Agency, helps them find companies that can petition them for employment-based immigrant visas. Through this work of ours, we have reunited hundreds of families and made it possible for foreign nationals who were stuck here in the United States for years as students or some other type of visa to get their immigrant status so they can finally travel and visit their families in their home country.
With 1Heart Caregiver Services, aside from providing jobs to our employees, we are able to help families take care of their loved ones. And now that we’re franchising — we’re giving people a chance to make their own American Story; a story of success that comes from hard work and finding the courage to take that leap of faith to achieving financial freedom and living the life that they dream of. How? By being their own boss. Doing a business that serves the community in a very good way — providing love, care and family to our frail and elderly.
You have firsthand experience with the U.S. immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
I agree with the National Academy of Sciences stating that, “immigration is integral to the nation’s economic growth”. America is aging and we need more people who can pay taxes, and can invest in business that create more jobs to fuel the economy. There are immigrants who deserve to be here and those who do not.
First, we need to do a better job of enforcing the laws that we already have in place for those who do not deserve to be here.
Second, we need to fast track the process for those who deserve to be here. It has become harder for immigrants to adjust their status because Immigration Officers have been given the power to exercise a wide latitude of discretion in the approval of a certain cases. There has to be a more defined guideline or checklist that qualified Officers should follow so that those who meet all the requirements can get their green cards without having to wait longer than needed.
Lastly, prevent those who hinder the immigration efforts for their own political gain.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
Humility. Prepare to humble yourself when you come to this country. It doesn’t matter what station of life you came from. If you have to start from the bottom again, embrace it with faith and believe in your capability to make a better life for yourself by your own efforts.
I remember this one person who came to me for help finding a job years ago. She was a lawyer and a judge in her home country and came to the United States under Political Asylum. Her money was running out because she couldn’t find a job for the longest time. Turns out she was applying for positions that were at the same level that she occupied before she fled her country. Nobody was hiring her because she didn’t have the local experience. When she took my advice and accepted an entry level position in a company I referred her to, she finally had a chance to really start her life here in the U.S. Less than two years later, she was managing the whole firm. Because she set aside her pride and was willing to start from the bottom, she was able to prove her value to the company in no time and got to where she wanted to be.
Resilience — Adapt and recover from all adversities.
When my ex-husband and I divorced, he moved back to the Philippines and practically left me with three kids to raise on my own. It was a very difficult situation for me, but I had to adapt to change in my life and survive. This country offers us so many opportunities for a good life. There’s no room for feeling like the victim when life doesn’t go the way you dreamt it would be.
Courage. Do not be afraid to take a fall.
It took me five years of thinking and talking to friends and relatives about starting a business together. Nothing happened because no one was willing to take the risk and lose our consistent monthly paychecks. I finally decided I would do it on my own and not wait for others to take that step with me. I’m glad I did.
Ask for help if you need it. There will always be people better than you who can help you achieve your goals. Ask and be grateful for all the help you get from anyone.
Integrity. Everything that you do has to be done with integrity. Success will follow.
My mom once told me, whether its business or personal, “I am not afraid to face anyone, rich or poor, because I have always treated people with integrity. There is no one out there who can say that I have done them wrong for personal gain.”
When you have integrity, people trust you. That trust can carry you through and help you make your own American story and achieve your dream.
We know that the United States needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
The United States has always been the land of opportunity. It is a privilege to live in this country where we have the freedom to do so many things that you cannot even imagine being able to do in other parts of the world. Because of this freedom, we as a nation will always find ways to solve our problems domestically. We also have great leaders from different parties who have the best interest of thenation in their agendas. All these make me optimistic about the future of our country.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 😊
There are so many famous people I would love to meet and pick their brains about how they achieved success. But, I have to say that the first person that comes to mind is my mom. Unfortunately, my mom passed away before she saw me achieve what I now have in my life. Growing up, I was critical of her ways and often questioned her decisions. There were times when I told myself, “I hope I don’t grow up to be like her.” But as I grew older and assumed the roles of wife, mother and businesswoman, I realized that I was a lot like her. She has inspired me in my life especially with this caregiving business and I wish I could have that one moment to be with her and thank and show her how good my life turned out because of her. I know she would really be proud.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!