Hilda Pacheco-Taylor, the oldest of seven children, was once an orphan herself in Baja, Mexico. At 16, she left her orphanage to find her mom in Santa Ana, Calif. and reunite her family. Today, at nearly 50, her main concern is fundraising for the hundreds of orphans that still populate Baja.
In 1994, she founded Corazón de Vida, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization supporting 15 orphanages and 850 children in Baja, only an hour and a half from the California border. It aids in providing children, without a caretaker or a home, the basic necessities of shelter, food, clothing, education, and healthcare.
She has been busy preparing for “A Night in Tuscany for the Kids” tonight in Santa Ana — only one of the fundraisers she helps organize monthly in order to keep her commitment to keep the orphanages running properly, since the Mexican government provides limited funding.
“If we don’t actively fundraise, these kids don’t eat,” says Pacheco-Taylor. “We have to be in an active fundraising mode all the time.”
The orphanages haven’t always run as smoothly as when Pacheco-Taylor was a child in Baja. When she was around 30, already with two small children of her own, Pacheco-Taylor felt a strong desire to pay a visit to the orphanage which raised her since age 8, when her single mother could no longer afford to raise her and her siblings.
“There was a big difference between what I knew, and what I saw when I went back,” says Pacheco-Taylor, who remembered her orphanage experience being like Disneyland with her own bed, instead of piling together on a dirt floor at home. “It looked like an abandoned place. They had no food… I was so in shock.”
She says she went back to California with an incessant urge to find sponsors for the kids. The owners of the company she worked for, and still works for full-time, Supplier Excellence Alliance, helped her found Corazón de Vida.
“It just evolved because of the interest and generosity of so many people,” says Pacheco-Taylor who today organizes monthly trips for volunteers to visit the orphans in Mexico, many of whom, like her, have been brought there by parents who can’t afford to raise them, or have been abused or abandoned.
She says it’s been more of a challenge to find volunteers to go with her and the team to spend quality time with the orphans, because Americans are now afraid to go to Mexico.
“Corazón de Vida used to do three trips a month, but we’re down to one trip a month,” says Pacheco-Taylor. “Not enough people feel safe enough to go, but it is safe. It’s like saying it’s dangerous in Chicago and not going to Chicago…”
She says in the last year, it’s been their intention to also focus on the older kids getting ready to graduate from an orphanage and encourage them to stay and go to college.
“We are working very closely with the university in Baja,” says Pacheco-Taylor who is working hard on educating the locals in Baja about the orphan problem. “They don’t know they are in their backyard, or they thought the government was supporting them. We’re reaching out to businesses and individuals for jobs, and mentors….”
She says she is overjoyed that this is the first year there are 15 teenagers in college in the orphanages, and another 15 signed up for next year. Pacheco-Taylor never went to college herself.
“In Santa Ana, when I first got here, I finished the equivalent of the ninth grade,” she says. “I went to school for about six months in the U.S., but I had to quit to work and support the family…I just learned English by using it.”
She says she feels that being the oldest and feeling the obligation of supporting and reuniting her family is what differentiated her from her orphanage colleagues. Many left the orphanage only to get pregnant and continue the poverty cycle by leaving their children in an orphanage.
“If you don’t have a goal, it’s easy to get lost,” says Pacheco-Taylor. “Living in an orphanage, you’ve been shielded from life — no movie theater, liquor…When you leave, you want to experience life — you get lost in that.”
She says her dream is to help others be able to break the cycle as she did.
“It probably won’t be in my lifetime, but hopefully we’ll plant a seed for change,” she says.