A mother and daughter stood before a Christmas tree in Norristown last week, smiling and hugging.

But it was no ordinary family Christmas.

The 10-year-old girl and her mother had just been reunited after seven years apart.

Hours after their reunion, they visited the ACLAMO Family Center in Norristown to thank the social service organization for help with the final leg of the young girl's journey from Honduras.

The organization - ACLAMO stands for Accion Comunal Latino Americano de Montgomery County - serves Latino and low-income residents in Montgomery County. It helped the woman complete paperwork and send money to an agency in Texas that arranged the girl's flight to Philadelphia.

Juan Guerra, ACLAMO's executive director, declined to name the mother and daughter because he was unsure of their immigration status.

"Boy, if you saw her daughter, you'd think what a fine young lady and how very vulnerable, too," Guerra said. "I just thought, my God, how did she get here, and I hope that she was OK through it because it must have been harrowing."

Reuniting a family was not part of ACLAMO's plan this holiday season. But, in addition to passing out winter coats and hosting parties to distribute more than 1,200 presents donated through Toys for Tots, it was a welcome surprise.

ACLAMO began operating in Norristown 38 years ago to serve a growing Puerto Rican community. It is now a full social service agency, with offices serving Spanish-speaking populations in Norristown and Pottstown.

The organization offers after-school programs, literacy programs, and health services. Often, the staff provides help just by offering assistance scheduling a doctor's appointment or translating a document.

"Sometimes it's a struggle, a frustration, when you don't speak the language," said Mari-cruz Clemens, who works at ACLAMO's Pottstown office.

Clemens, 41, moved to the United States from Mexico in 2001. She began working at ACLAMO last year because she wanted to help her own community.

This week, Clemens gathered with a handful of other staff members in Norristown to share a meal before closing for the holidays. ACLAMO's building was unusually quiet, Guerra said, without the typical crowds of children, volunteers, and clients. Staff members stood around the plump Christmas tree in the lobby - a donation from the Montgomery County Correctional Facility - while they gave one another presents and chatted in Spanish.

ACLAMO has just 11 staff members, and it relies on volunteers to run its year-round programming and special events such as the annual Toys for Tots party, Guerra said.

"This is that time of year when people just come out of the woodwork," Guerra said.

At a holiday party this month, ACLAMO hosted 1,500 guests in Norristown and distributed more than 1,200 toys through a Toys for Tots program. On Jan. 3, the organization will hold a similar, smaller event in Pottstown.

ACLAMO has also distributed winter coats, hats, and gloves donated this year by students at Episcopal Academy and the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit.

When the Norristown mother and daughter arrived to thank ACLAMO for their help last week, staff members were able to provide the child with a winter coat.

"Imagine coming from Honduras, arriving in the cold Philadelphia winter," Guerra said.

He said seeing the mother and daughter walk into ACLAMO's lobby last Thursday - their first stop after their reunion at the airport - was a reminder to the staff and volunteers that their work and donations make a difference.

The mother, who had been working and saving money for years to bring her daughter to the United States, had not expected to turn to ACLAMO for help. But faced with a deadline to complete paperwork and transfer the money for her daughter's flight into a bank account, she knocked on the organization's door.

"It was just a neat thing," Guerra said, "that ACLAMO happened to be here, and she happened to come in."



Families served over the last 13 years by the ACLAMO literacy program


Students from kindergarten through eighth grade enrolled in the after-school program


Students from kindergarten through ninth grade enrolled in the 2014 summer activity program


Children in 2014 who were helped to enroll in new health insurance plans


People helped yearly by the ACLAMO social services department