A chat with… Michelle Saldivar, Special Projects Advisor at Building One Community

DARIEN — Michelle Saldivar spoke no English when she came to the United States in 1995 for her undergraduate studies.

It was through theater and other student organizations at Massasoit Community College in Massachusetts, and out of necessity, that she quickly picked it up.

“I had no English whatsoever,” Saldivar, 42, said about her experiences meeting other students. “I was involved in everything because I wanted to be part of the community.”

In 10 years’ time, she graduated with a triple major in political science, economics and international relations from Stonehill College and was working in London for Wellington Management, a financial management firm.

When asked if she expected such a turn in her life, Saldivar shook her head.

“Not at all,” Saldivar said with a smile. “When I left Mexico, I said that I would be back in one year and, well, my life just took me to the next place.”

Though Texas-born, Saldivar grew up in various parts of Mexico, including the capital in the central part of the country and Tamaulipas in the north. Her family encouraged her to travel to rural parts of the country and engage with local communities through mission trips.

“My parents were keen on traveling and seeing the world, but that also meant traveling to the next town over and exploring and meeting people,” Saldivar said. “It was about getting involved and being an active participant, being part of the community and giving back.”

That sense of community involvement carried over when her family, including her two sons, moved to Darien in 2010. She volunteered at the Young Women’s Christian Association and the Mather Senior Center and even found time to continue acting as part of the British pantomime group in town.

When she was introduced as a volunteer to Building One Community, the immigration help center in Stamford, in 2014, she was instantly hooked. One year later, she joined the staff and is the special projects adviser at the center.

“The clients of the organization are intrinsically connected with the success of all these towns. At Building One Community we have language and English as a Second Language programs and support services,” Saldivar said. “I found myself really fortunate to be able to combine this community engagement and passion for service.”

Saldivar said work on the legal front at the Building One Community center has increased, but volunteers have stepped up to help.

“Our main goal is to give our clients the skills they need to integrate themselves in our community to succeed and thrive,” Saldivar said. “We’re a region of immigrants; if you enrich one part, you’re only bringing everybody up.”

Recently, with her sons at New Canaan Country School, Saldivar became vice president of the Parent Association Community, Diversity and Inclusion initiative. Though it may seem as if her work is spread out, the Darien resident believes it all forms part of a larger, integrated effort.

“(My work) is all interconnected; it’s such an interwoven fabric that it’s all part of the same thing. I count my blessings being able to do one thing that touches so many areas, and in the end it’s for the benefit of the local community,” Saldivar said.