Maria Elena Lacayo barely recognizes the name Spanish Committee of Alexandria, but when Maria Gonzalez is mentioned, she smiles in instant recognition.

"Oh, yes. Maria Gonzalez," said Lacayo, a native of Nicaragua who came to the United States 10 years ago. "She has tried very hard to help us."

Lacayo, 28, first heard of Gonzalez and the Spanish Committee six months ago when a relative recently arrived from Nicaragua went to the committee for help with the maze of paper work that would give him legal immigrant status.

"My relative had told me how helpful the committee had been, so I went to them myself to see if they could give me some help with my mother's dental problems," said Lacayo.

Lacayo and her husband Carlos live with their two sons, ages 4 months and 3 years, and Maria Elena's mother in a small two-bedroom apartment overlooking Shirley Highway in Alexandria.

Carlos Lacayo works at the Capital Hilton and Maria Elena Lacayo works six -- and sometimes seven -- days a week cleaning homes.

Even with the two jobs, the Lacayos have a hard time making ends meet and have little, if any, spare cash.

"I simply will never be able to afford to pay my mother's bills myself," said Lacayo.

"And, as for me, I have a little bit of everything wrong with me," said Lacayo's mother, Olga de Valle, who celebrated her 48th birthday this week -- her first outside her native Nicaragua.

"But the worst problem I have is with my teeth," said Valle, in an interview conducted in Spanish. "I have something very bad wrong with my gums. I need a treatment that the dentists say is very expensive. Where are we going to find the money for something like that?

"We had to ask somebody for help. And who can I ask for help without speaking English except somebody like Maria Gonzalez? I only came here seven months ago and I don't speak any English at all."

A satisfactory and inexpensive solution to Valle's dental problems has not been found yet, but both Valle and Lacayo have nothing but praise for the Spanish Committee.

"It is a big help for those who come here from other countries," said Lacayo. "I speak English now, of course, and I can get along, but so many people who come don't know any English at all and everybody seems to need so many things.

"There is nothing worse than not being able to communicate with people."