Growing up, I always wanted to help people. As a child, I watched my mom host food giveaways in the neighborhood, advocate against police brutality, connect people with resources, and serve as a go-to person for people in need around us. It would be easy to think we had a lot, but we did not. We were also struggling and living paycheck to paycheck. But for my mom, helping others and sharing the little we had was a priority. I have always wanted to follow in her footsteps. Knowing the tangible difference we can make in people’s lives is at the core of my drive. The people my mother helped were from our community in the Dominican Republic, families of the kids I played with, and it was very close to home. When I came to the US, I was able to extend my mom’s teachings to people I did not know in a foreign country. She worked hard on instilling this idea of global citizenship in me, and I am grateful to carry this value, though I have not always known what my path would be.
I struggled to figure out what helping people looked like for me. “You will help people in any major; if you want to help, you can do that in all careers,” my brother would say every time I would get overwhelmed and tried to align my major with what I wanted to do. Finally, a year later, I would find my calling by mere coincidence. Almost five years ago, I started working at Single Stop at Hostos Community College as a work-study. While I ended up in this department by chance, I stayed because of Madeline Cruz’s leadership. As the Single Stop Coordinator, Madeline fostered a love for food security and a passion for serving CUNY, completely changing my life and career path. She taught me a lot about how to help students and take care of myself. She also fostered a workplace culture that encouraged camaraderie and support. Her passion for service in food justice enamored me and working closely with her brought me closer to my roots and helped me rediscover my love for food justice, a term I had no idea existed then. Madeline connected me with Professor Kathleen Delgado, the Food Security Advocates Coordinator at Hostos, and the program got me more involved with the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute. Through the Food Security Advocates, I was given the opportunity to speak on a number panels, which have helped me improve my confidence in public speaking. Working as a Food Security Advocate, I learned more technical terms and understood the magnitude of food work. I went from directly servicing students to creating campaigns, advocating for CUNY, testifying in front of the city council for funding, participating in panel discussions, and doing hydroponic farming. This allowed me to work in different capacities to foster food security.
Shortly after my FSA role, I transferred from Hostos Community College to Lehman. I kept in contact with Professor Delgado, and she told me about the CUNY Food Justice Leadership Fellowship. I applied, and it was one of the best decisions I have made. I learned about food more holistically and made connections that have been crucial in my service to young people amid a global pandemic. I have also worked with other young leaders and have been inspired by the work we are all doing. My Fellowship Coordinator, Valerie Chong Nigg, has been critical to my success in the program. During a challenging year and what felt like the world falling apart, they pushed me and held space to heal. Through the Fellowship, I was given the additional opportunity to work at Swipe Out Hunger as the CUNY Food Navigator Manager, and we have helped over 1,500 students by connecting them with food resources and making SNAP referrals.
I have been blessed with having professors, staff, and others at CUNY to support me and push me to achieve my goals. Because of the support of my mentors, beginning with my mother, I recently graduated with a Sociology degree and plan to continue serving my community through these experiences. I have no idea where I would be without those networks. Now, I mentor students through my role at Swipe Out Hunger, and it has been a gratifying experience. I get to redistribute all the advice I have been given by my mentors and support others in their journey. I look forward to continuing to mentor young people in my future roles. My mentors completely changed my life, and I hope to do the same for others. I hope CUNY will continue to create and fund programs like the CUNY Food Justice Leadership Fellowship and the CUNY Food Security Advocates. These programs are opportunities for students to access mentorship and get direct experience in their field; my mentors shared opportunities with me to gain skills that employers desire. Mentorship should not be an afterthought and it is very heartwarming to know that there are many staff and professors at CUNY willing and ready to invest their time and experiences in CUNY students.