Blanca Kling, a pillar in the Latino community who helped thousands of crime victims, dies of complications of covid-19

Blanca Kling, a pillar in the Latino community who helped thousands of crime victims, dies of complications of covid-19

Kling, 68, died Jan. 27 at UM Laurel Medical Center, of complications from covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. She lived in Prince George’s County with her husband of 40 years, Tony Kling.

“Her faith increased in times of tribulation or times of suffering. God always gave her strength,” said the couple’s son, Jason Kling, 37. “She was always able to take on the pain and suffering of others.”

Tips about unreported crimes against the undocumented community of Maryland would often land on Kling’s desk, and colleagues said she worked to follow up on them.

In 2010, she recruited a detective to investigate after a Hispanic man repeatedly found his car tires slashed in the Wheaton area. Kling and the detective went door to door and found more victims.

The investigation led to the arrest of a man who was ultimately convicted of a hate crime. Prosecutors at the time said there were more than 10 victims.

Helping others was in Kling’s nature, friends and family said. She began doing it while in grade school in her native Bolivia.

The youngest of four children of a military general in La Paz, she got in trouble for sneaking food and clothes from her home to give to less fortunate neighbors.

“When I was 11, for six months I invited a homeless man for lunch every day at 2. I’d tell my grandmom, ‘He’s coming, so we have to feed him.’ My parents finally gave up trying to stop me from helping the poor,” she recalled.

Kling was 17 when she moved to Maryland, the first in her family to migrate to the United States. She attended Bethesda Chevy Chase High School and went on to study at Montgomery College.

In 1980, a decade after arriving in the U.S., Kling joined the county police department as an aide and interpreter. She then became a victims services coordinator, a job that took her to crime scenes and victims’ homes.

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“She took my sister and I along to meet these people she served, and she impressed upon us at a very early age the joy of serving others and the duty we have to advocate and fight for those without a voice,” said Jason Kling, a social worker at D.C. Public Schools.

“She showed clients love and they responded to that,” he said.

Kling, who was known with affection as Blanquita, eventually became a familiar face in the homes of thousands of Hispanic families in the Washington region who watched her appear on local Spanish-language news or listened to her on the radio offering tips for how to stay safe on the road, warning about unscrupulous scammers and encouraging immigrants without documents to report crime.

She made deep connections with some families who experienced crime, including those who had lost loved ones to homicide.

In her latest role as the police liaison with the Hispanic community, she helped launch anti-gang programs at schools and street safety campaigns aimed at reducing pedestrian fatalities.

Over the span of her career, Kling connected Hispanic immigrants to housing opportunities and jobs and helped them navigate challenging bureaucratic processes. She helped organize health fairs, domestic violence summits and numerous other events, including an annual holiday party for autistic children.

“She would call me, and she’d be like, ‘We need 1,300 dollars to put this together.’ And that was my job to go and get sponsors,” said Grace Rivera-Oven, a close friend who partnered with Kling on various community events.

Kling was one of the first county workers to arrive at the scene of a massive explosion and fire at a Silver Spring apartment complex in August 2016. The blast killed seven people, injured more than 30 and displaced more than 100 — most of them immigrants.

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She led volunteers in distributing food and clothes to the displaced and helped set up a mobile clinic for injured residents who feared going to the hospital because of their lack of health insurance. She helped families organize funerals.

“She worked nonstop for three weeks. Day and night,” recalled Rivera-Oven, who also volunteered. After the emergency was over, Kling continued to work with families to help them find housing, school supplies for the children, and free mental health help.

“Blanquita always went the extra mile. She was not a 9-to-5 worker,” said Rivera-Oven, who knew Kling for more than three decades. “To Blanquita this was a mission. It was not uncommon for her to be delivering food or taking someone to a doctor or a therapist.”

A devout Catholic, Kling was also dedicated to service through the church. In the early 2000s she became the first Hispanic person, and woman, to chair St. Camillus Church’s Parish Council, and worked with the church-sponsored immigration programs, including helping new immigrants apply for amnesty in the 1980s.

The Rev. Brian Jordan of St. Camillus, in Silver Spring, said Kling “believed in the importance of justice” and in the power of charity and love.

“She showed it not just by her words but especially through her actions,” said Jordan, who met Kling 30 years ago and officiated at her Jan. 29 funeral. She was also full of energy, he said.

“I always saw Blanca as a model for that commercial [for] the Energizer bunny,” he said at the service. “¡Ay, Dios mío! — Oh Lord! — So much energy and she didn’t even drink that much coffee. She was always so full of energy. Full of love and understanding.”

Those close to her said Kling’s faith kept her strong as she worked on many heartbreaking cases. She organized prayer chains for strangers and friends dealing with illness or loss.

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At home, Kling took pride in guiding her two children in the Catholic faith, and in the spirit of helping others. Jason and Lizzie Kling, 34, learned to read and speak Spanish with their mom by reading verses of Jesus’s teachings in the Spanish version of the Bible.

Over the last year, she was overjoyed with being an abuela, said Jason Kling. He said he’ll treasure the limited time she spent with his 1-year-old twin boys, Noah and Matias.

She loved going to live performances at Strathmore with friends, took nieces and nephews to the movies, and was an honorary comadre — godmother for Bolivian folkloric dance groups.

She was “a pillar in the Latino community,” the police department said in a statement. Kling’s presence in front of television cameras and behind radio microphones helped “inform, forge authentic relationships and build bridges of collaboration between our Spanish-speaking constituents and our police force.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who in 2016 nominated Kling to a congressional victim’s rights award said “we will always remember her kindness, generosity, and unwavering commitment to Montgomery County and to all Marylanders.”

The news about Kling’s declining health in mid-January moved friends and family to launch nightly prayer chains just like she had done for many of them in the past. Acquaintances overwhelmed her Facebook page with messages, photos and stories about how she had helped or touched their lives.

On Jan. 29, county police escorted her remains from St. Camillus to George Washington Cemetery in Adelphi, where she was laid to rest.

Jason Kling said her death has left thousands who knew her brokenhearted. And many, he said, inspired to continue her work.

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