NEW ALBANY — For Nicaraguan couple Julio Araúz and Brenda Molina, the good news came on the same day.

Earlier this month, they learned that Brenda was hired for a job as a teller at a bank — her first job in the United States. That day, they also learned they had been pre-approved for a loan to purchase a house in Clarksville.

And after months of delays, the couple finally learned that their asylum case had been approved.

Brenda and Julio, along with their 7-year-old daughter, Juli, have been living in New Albany for more than a year, and since they interviewed for asylum in April, they had been waiting to see whether their case would be accepted. The family left Nicaragua in 2018 due to threats of violence amidst the country's political turmoil.

After the couple participated in peaceful protests against Nicaragua's government, Julio was placed on a blacklist, and they were the targets of escalating threats by the country's paramilitary groups due to their political beliefs. The family left the country for Miami in July 2018, and they eventually settled in New Albany, where they have been living in a house given to them by David Stemler of PC Home Center in New Albany.

Their asylum case had actually been approved months ago — it was approved just a few week after their interview, Brenda said. But until a few weeks ago, they still hadn't received word of the case's status from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and they were uncertain of their future.

Larry Ricke, financial services representative with Ricke & Associates, has helped them in a variety of ways over the past few months, including connecting them with Ninth District U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-IN, who requested information about the status of their case. This helped expedite their process, and their file was placed on top, Julio said.

Ricke also sent out Brenda's resume to several companies in the community, which helped her get an interview with First Savings Bank, and he connected them with leaders and loan officers from First Harrison Bank who could help them with a loan for a house in Clarksville, which was being sold by a friend at an affordable price.

They first learned that Brenda had been hired at First Savings Bank. Later in the day, they were contacted by a staff member from Hollingsworth's office, and she learned the news over the phone.

"And I was like, I'm going to have a heart attack," she said. "Because you know, we didn't know if it was going to be good or bad...it was like oh my goodness, please have mercy on us. Then she says, you're case has been granted, and I started crying. I couldn't stop my tears and all the emotions."

Julio was also in tears when he learned the final decision, and he was overwhelmed with his emotions as they received all of the news within such as short amount of time. Two hours after receiving news of their asylum case, they learned that they were pre-approved for the loan for their house.

"You feel at peace, very peaceful because now you know you are safe over here and you don’t have to be worried if you have to go to another country if you are denied the asylum, if you have to move your daughter from her school," Julio said. "Everything was unknown for us…right now, we start thinking about where we are going to be. Where are we going to establish ourselves, and where are we going to work? We decide, OK, let’s stay over here."

The peace given to their family by the approval of their case is priceless, Brenda said.

"It feels so good — it feels totally different," she said. "Actually, nothing else changed, but the way you feel, the way you see the world, the safety and security you feel — oh Lord, it doesn't have any price."

A NEW HOME

For Brenda and Julio, the approval of their case means a new beginning.

New Albany has become a home for the family, and they are excited to stay in the area. They have found friends and a community through St. Mary's Catholic Church in New Albany, and Juli attends Fairmont Elementary.

"We never imagined to be here and set our roots over here — it feels good," Julio said. "It’s a very good community over here, and every time we get more and more involved in the community."

Brenda, who worked as an operations management professional in Nicaragua, is in her second week at First Savings Bank, including locations in both Jeffersonville and Clarksville. They are already moving into their new home in Clarksville, which they will renting before buying.

"It's like the beginning of building again in your life," she said. "We're going to start over again, but then there is a light, there is a blessing. I was telling Julio, I don't want to think about the future, I just want to live the present and live every day like it was the last one in my life and enjoy it, and enjoy each day and enjoy the blessings and enjoy our daughter and see what God has for us in the future. Definitely he has been merciful with us, and he gave us so much."

In Nicaragua, Julio worked as an attorney, but he would have to study all over again in order to practice in the United States. They both have prior business experience — in Nicaragua, they owned their own farm and a food truck, and they were in the process of opening a restaurant before they left. They intend to become entrepreneurs again in Southern Indiana, and they hope to own a franchise.

Julio said they are grateful for all the help from Ricke and everyone else who has supported them.

"It was act of selflessness for him doing that for somebody that he didn’t know," he said.

Ricke was pleased to learn about the decision from USCIS, and he was happy to connect them with the right people.

"I was able to use the relationships I’ve built over my years in my business to help them connect with people who could possibly help with along with this process," he said. "That’s what I did. I’m very pleased with the outcome. I think they will make model citizens of [Southern Indiana], and we're very fortunate to have them in the city."

It's been a tough journey to get to this point, Brenda said, but she feels that her faith is stronger now.

"I feel that He listened to us, He heard our praise and if we had something to learn, we accomplished that," she said. "Definitely we went through a journey over the past years, and I think it was to make our faith strong."

As they proceed into a new chapter of their lives, Julio is excited about what this means for their daughter.

"Everything that we do, we do it for her, for her future and for her safety," he said. "She is going to have so many opportunities, the same as us, and she's going to have a great future."

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