For many of us, being an American is something we were simply born into. But for Jolanta Baranowski the struggle to get her family to the U.S. was long and sometimes lonely.
When she was just 22 years old her sister Mariola was in a severe car accident in the U.S. and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Jolanta, a fresh therapist at the time, made the trip to the states and found her sister, "so different."
Upon seeing her condition, Jolanta decided to stay. This at the same time Poland was instituting martial law. She said,"Living there I did not see a lot of things going on because media only allow what they could allow. When I came here (U.S.) I could truly find out what was going on in Poland."
Dr. Mark Ashley, founder of the Centre for Neuro Skills, helped Jolanta become a U.S. citizen. The story would end there except for what she still had in Poland. A husband and one year old son.
Their correspondence was censored and letters were opened including one where the growth of her son was measured by the size of his feet. But Jolanta was still able to feel close to family. She put a blown up picture, they last one they took as a family, above her bed.
She would record herself reading a baby book, send the tape to Poland and her family would play it for her son Kamile. Kamile had a matching picture of his mother in his room so that, "Everytime i go and send him something he will go and kiss me on the wall."
After four years of being apart, her husband and son finally became U.S. citizens. Since then Jolanta has become a fixture at CNS working there for more than 30 years. To this day she continues to look after her sister as well as making sure other brain injured patients can receive quality care.
Chris Persel, director of rehabilitation at CNS, said, "She was able to convince the insurance companies to give people more time in therapy i think because of her personal experience (with her sister)."
As for her husband, well if you've been in Bakersfield for any period of time you'll recognize him from Jerry's pizza.
"A lot of people who never witness different world they don't have a full value of what does freedom mean?" said a thankful Jerry. The former political activist is now an activist for small businesses. As part of the Downtown Business Association he has even lobbied in Washington on on behalf of small businesses.
Like many American immigrants, they found a second home in the U.S. "Sometimes when you're born into something you don't grasp as well what you could not have had," said Jolanta.
While Poland's political situation has improved, Jolanta was thinking about her son's future when she decided to move to the U.S. He graduated from Cal Poly, is married, and is now a computer engineer on the coast.