Breaking language barriers, Elaine Pierce and her guests have forged a bond akin to family — a bond so strong they are spending the holiday season together under one roof.
Last July, Pierce learned from her church about Venezuelan migrants sleeping on the floor of a nearby police station. She immediately reached out to a volunteer organization, offering spare rooms in her home.
"I thought there would be some kind of background check or something, and the next day after that, I had five people in my home. It was that quick," Pierce told Scripps News.
During a recent visit, her home in Oak Park, Illinois, was relatively quiet with two adult migrants and a toddler staying upstairs.
One of them, 29-year-old Venezuelan Claudia Biafra, told Scripps News that Pierce has become like a mother to her because of the great care and attentiveness the retiree pays to her and other guests.
Four other migrants, who stay downstairs but are away for a few weeks, also call this place home. Two more are slated to arrive in January, which will make a total of nine guests.
Pierce, who receives no government money, says the migrants get food from a local pantry, and neighbors and friends pitch in.
"They've been just as much a gift to me as I am to them," Pierce said, adding, "I get hugged and kissed six times a day, and the kids call me abuela."
Pierce said the migrants — or her people, as she calls them — look out for her, too.
"Jose will come up and go. 'Calme, calme' you know, 'slow down. Don't get short of breath,'" she said.
Pierce gets short of breath easily because she suffers from terminal breast cancer — but while she can, she wants to make the world a better place.
"I can't give away money and have some huge foundation or discover some Nobel-winning prize for a cure for some illness. But I can do one tiny little thing, and that's okay," she said.
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