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From Lancaster to Peru, a social worker sows seeds of service

Maria Del Carpio

Maria Del Carpio grew up in Sabandia, a hilly village in rural Peru, where nearly half of the population lives in poverty. Even as a child, she noticed the stark disparity between her own comfortable existence and that of her less fortunate neighbors. 

She was troubled by the unfairness of it all. Why, she wondered, did she have a nice home and plenty of food, when so many other children didn’t even have shoes? 

Inspired by her mother’s example, Del Carpio embarked on a lifetime of service to others that led her everywhere from a convent to political office, eventually landing nearly 4,000 miles from home, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She faced challenges of her own along the way, arriving in America as a single mother to two young boys, jobless and nearly penniless, bolstered more than once by acts of kindness from strangers. 

Now, more than two decades later, Del Carpio has a full and happy life, with a loving family and a rewarding 15-year career as a social worker with Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. But she never forgot the people from her hometown in Peru, returning there each summer on mission trips with Sembradores de Semillas (Seed Sowers), a nonprofit organization she co-founded with her husband.

“My heart is to do things for others, to serve people,” she said. “My message is of hope, faith, and love. I want to be an inspiration to others.”

Building special connections

Today, Del Carpio works with the Penn Medicine Lancaster General LG Health’s  Healthy Beginnings Plus, a home visitation program that provides free prenatal support services to individuals who meet certain income requirements. 

Del Carpio works exclusively with Spanish-speaking mothers-to-be, many of them new immigrants, who are as young as age 16 and many of whom face mental health, housing and other challenges.

She views her role as part counselor, part cheerleader, and above all, as a consistent presence who truly cares. She aims to empower and give hope, all the while kindly but firmly encouraging her patients to focus on their child.  

“They might see their situation as hopeless, but I tell them, ‘You can do amazing things.’ I really believe the United States is a country of opportunity. I live it, and it’s totally true.”

A shared language and culture, as well as her own life experience, help Del Carpio build trust with her patients. She starts by connecting them to resources from baby supplies to English classes, and also with education. 

Many women don’t realize how the United States differs from their home countries, she said. Where they are from, a doctor might wait for you if you are late for an appointment, and domestic violence might be considered a normal part of life.

Dawn Horst, MSW, Manager, Women and Children’s Community Health, Del Carpio’s supervisor for many years, said she serves as a true advocate for families, who respect her advice even though it rarely comes sugarcoated. In fact, Horst believes Del Carpio’s blend of empathy with honesty only strengthens her special connection with patients.

“Maria has an absolute passion for what she believes in, and for helping others,” she said. “She takes the same passion that we see here at work back home with her when she goes to Peru.”

A foundation of faith and compassion

Driven by a deep and unwavering religious faith, Del Carpio learned from her mother, Julia, to have compassion for others. Her mother’s many acts of kindness included handing out food and gifts to a line of people that stretched down the block outside their home every Christmas. 

Del Carpio’s strong faith led her to join a convent in her late teens. But an even more insistent calling—the desire to be a mother someday— soon led her in a different direction. She became a family law attorney, routinely offering her services to single mothers for free. She later was elected second (deputy) mayor of her town, where she sought to improve the lives of her neighbors by funding road construction projects to promote the town’s growth.

But in 2001, her political party lost an election, and the lives of Del Carpio and her family were threatened. She and her young sons fled Peru and sought political asylum in the United States. She arrived in New York City with nowhere to live, no job prospects and just $500 in her pocket. She spoke no English. 

At the encouragement of strangers, the family settled in Lancaster, and Del Carpio’s new landlord allowed her to postpone her first rent payment until she landed a job. She also found support and community through a local Spanish-speaking church. 

“God gave me hope,” she said. “I realized that my troubles were temporary.”

On her first day of work in a factory, the job’s physical demands left Del Carpio out of breath and in tears. Impressed by her story and her determination, the factory owner allowed her to begin her workdays at 4 am and take three-hour breaks to attend English classes. 

Del Carpio decided not to continue to practice law in the United States, eventually finding her current role with LG Health. “This job gives me the chance to touch hearts,” she said. “I help people do better in life, and to make this world better.”

On a mission

Since settling in Lancaster, Del Carpio earned her Master of Social Work degree. She also met the man she calls the love of her life, her husband of 13 years, Thomas Blaszczyk. Her sons are now grown and established in their own careers: Jose Castro with the Migrant Education Program at Millersville University and Rodrigo Castro as a senior project manager for the Clinical Practices of the University of Pennsylvania.

But despite her deep roots in the United States, the people of Sabandia are never far from Del Carpio’s mind. In 2021, she and her husband began leading local volunteers, who are mostly teenagers and young adults, on trips to Peru through Sembradores de Semillas. Their mission is twofold: to serve others who are less fortunate, and to help young people grow in faith while doing so. 

“There’s so much to do,” she said. “You see the need everywhere.” 

Ava Thurmond, now 15, traveled to Peru with Sembradores de Semillas in July 2023. She and her fellow volunteers arrived carrying luggage stuffed with clothing and supplies to leave behind. They focused on improving lives in large and small ways, from renovating homes to distributing basics, such as milk and eggs, to families who otherwise would have no food on the table. 

“The biggest lesson I learned was how I should be grateful for the little things,” she said, recalling young children’s excitement at receiving gifts of balloons and stickers. “It was awesome to see that we did something good down there.”

The trip left such a lasting impression that Thurmond plans to return to Peru this summer. 

As for Del Carpio, she hopes to devote herself to Sembradores de Semillas once she reaches retirement. She dreams of bringing medical teams to Peru to provide preventive care, and in particular, of starting a program like Healthy Beginnings Plus. Above all, she wants her former neighbors to feel loved, and a little less alone. 

“I know we can’t resolve all the problems in the world,” she said. “Sometimes we have the opportunity to do a little wherever we are.”

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