Lourdes “Lulu” Blacksmith

Blacksmith Named Waubonsee "Fabulous 40"

Lourdes "Lulu" Blacksmith, seen here outside of U.S. Rep. J. Dennis Hastert's Batavia offices, has spent her professional career helping others. Waubonsee Community College is proud to honor her as one of the college's "Fabulous 40" alumni.
Sugar Grove — Lourdes “Lulu” Blacksmith has spent her professional career helping others. In her current role as community relations director and press secretary for U.S. Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, her positive impact on the community is great. Waubonsee Community College is proud to honor her as one of the college’s “Fabulous 40” alumni.

As part of the college’s yearlong 40th anniversary celebration, Waubonsee is honoring 40 alumni and students who embody the mission, vision and values of the college. These individuals represent the diversity of Waubonsee’s students and the college district, as well as the diversity of the college’s mission as a comprehensive community college.

One of nine children, Blacksmith grew up in Morelia, Mexico, in the Michoacán province. At 16, she immigrated to the United States.

“It’s a very vulnerable time in your life,” she said. “My parents wanted us to have a better life.”

Blacksmith found work on the third shift in a West Chicago factory. She inspected plastic bottles as they came out of the production line.

“I had minimal introduction to English,” she said. “My parents had little education. We all concentrated on work. The factories hired young, ambitious people, and there was no need to know the language because the supervisor spoke Spanish. Acculturation was very difficult, and it was easy to get lost in the process.”

After several years at the factory, Blacksmith realized she wanted more from her life. She began taking English as a Second Language classes and landed an order entry job at Ball Horticultural, where she would meet her husband, Steve.

“Working there gave me what I needed,” she said. “I was surrounded by people who spoke the language. Eventually, I made it.”

Blacksmith and her husband moved to Wisconsin for several years and had their first daughter, Nikki. They returned to the Fox Valley, living in North Aurora, then Batavia, and having a second daughter, Stefanie. Blacksmith took a job at K-Mart in Aurora to keep busy but still had the desire to improve her opportunities and help others as well. She applied for a job at Provena Mercy Center in Aurora and began there in 1987 as a patient registration clerk. This proved to be a turning point in her career — and in her life.

“So many people would come to the hospital not speaking English,” she said. “I realized, ‘This was me.’ They were wanting, and needing, someone who could help them. The need was so great. I wanted to do so much, but there was something holding me back. I was afraid of not succeeding.”

This desire to succeed provided all the motivation Blacksmith needed to return to school and enroll at Waubonsee. To her delight, she placed into English 101.

“I was thrilled that my English wasn’t as bad as I thought it was,” she said.

Another incentive for Blacksmith to earn her degree was gaining the ability to help both her daughters academically.

“Education has always been important to me,” she said. “Without education, you don’t have a voice. And I wanted to be heard.”

It wasn’t easy balancing a family and work with going to college, but Blacksmith found help in and out of the classroom to realize her educational goals.

“There were so many people available to help me,” she said. “The schedule flexibility and types of classes really made it easier for me. I never encountered a teacher who didn’t help me. There was such a support system in place.”

Interacting with students of all different backgrounds and seeing that she was able to meet any challenge she faced provided Blacksmith with the boost she needed to find her path.

“Graduating from Waubonsee changed me in so many ways,” she said. “Waubonsee gave me the self-esteem I needed. Before Waubonsee, I thought I couldn’t do it. Waubonsee gave me the soil to plant a tree. That seedling took root. I gained a sense of belonging. Had I failed, I don’t think that I would have pursued more. Waubonsee helped me get that foundation.”

After earning her associate degree with honors from Waubonsee, doors quickly opened for Blacksmith. She accepted the newly created position at Provena Mercy Center of Hispanic liaison.

“I really began to do things I was passionate about,” she said.

In 1999, Blacksmith founded Compañeros en Salud (Partners in Health), a grassroots nonprofit coalition that assists members of the Hispanic community in accessing health care and social services.

“There was so much need and great resources in the area, but many did not know how to access them,” she said.

Seeing her tremendous professional potential, Provena Mercy again promoted Blacksmith in 1999 to lead the community outreach department. She would increase the number of interpreters and work strategically to build community relations. During this time, Compañeros en Salud continued to grow. The group established a free community-based interpreting service, “Language Access to Healthcare,” published a bilingual health directory and hosted a highly successful annual Latina Health Festival, in addition to other initiatives.

Blacksmith saw the need for a more robust interpreting program to assist non-English speaking individuals. However, the infrastructure and training was not there to provide qualified interpreters. She would play a vital role in 2002 in the development of Waubonsee’s groundbreaking health care interpreting program, which would win a National Council of Instructional Administrators workplace award in 2005. Now, qualified bilingual individuals are specially trained in health care interpreting, receiving the educational foundation to communicate complicated medical terminology to Spanish-speaking patients.

In 2002, a friend of Rep. Hastert’s staff approached Blacksmith to gauge her interest in a community relations role at his Batavia office. It was a difficult decision for her, leaving what she loved and had built, but Blacksmith ultimately decided that she could make a greater impact joining Rep. Hastert’s staff.

“I knew this was a great opportunity to help more people and to open the doors to the Hispanic community,” she said.

A quick study, Blacksmith would learn to navigate the various governmental structures to continue helping the people of the district. In one of her more visible projects, she helped organize the Working for the Fox Valley Job Fair, in partnership with Waubonsee and other agencies. Whether she was addressing educational, health care, housing or organizations’ financial concerns, ultimately, her goal remained the same — helping others.

Earlier in 2007, Blacksmith became Rep. Hastert’s community relations director and press secretary.

“I never say no to a challenge,” she said.

In addition to her Waubonsee degree, Blacksmith also earned a bachelor’s degree in multicultural relations from DePaul University. She is the chair for Compañeros en Salud and has been active with the Dominican Literacy Center and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She and her husband live in Geneva.