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Latinos play key roles at United Way of Greater Toledo

By Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent

United Way of Greater Toledo currently employs eight Latinos who work at the social service agency in a variety of capacities.  Here are brief biographies of the eight, along with some personal insight into the work they perform for United Way and the community.

Milva Valenzuela Wagner
Milva Valenzuela Wagner serves as United Way’s Director of Major Gifts. She cultivates and develops relationships with donors and potential donors in order to enhance individual gifts, both annual and planned. She also focuses upon growing all levels of major gifts with focused programs for $25,000 and up, $10,000 and up (Alexis de Tocqueville Society), Leadership Programs ($1,000 and up) and retirees.

In addition to her duties in the Major Gifts department, Milva also oversees United Way Conexion Latina (the Latino initiative of United Way), which is working to expand Latino involvement in our community.

“I enjoy working at United Way because it allows me to facilitate ways in which individuals can make a difference in our community,” says Milva. “I also have been delighted to see the growth of United Way Conexion Latina and the impact it is having in the community.”

Milva has worked at United Way for two years. She is a board member of the Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center.

Stephen Vásquez
Stephen Vásquez serves as a development officer in United Way’s resource development department. He establishes and maintains relationships necessary to the success of the workplace giving campaigns he oversees in the construction, general industry, utilities & fuel and transportation industries.

“Knowing that what we do on a daily basis is directly helping those in the community who really need it most, makes it very easy to come into work every day,” says Vásquez, who has been with United Way for three-and-a-half years.

Milva Valenzuela Wagner

The son of Toledo School Board member and community activist Bob Vásquez, Stephen is proud of his family heritage. “My dad’s side of la familia (the Alvarado and Vásquez familias) were among the pioneer East Toledo Latino settlers [see “School Board candidate Bob Vásquez: “Education is the pathway to equality!by Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent, in the Feb. 29, 2008 issue of La Prensa, or online at: https://laprensatoledo.com/Stories/2008/022908/Bob.htm]. 

“Everyone, including my dad, my three uncles, and many cousins, all graduated from Waite High School. My family is originally from México and made their way to the Midwest by working the fields on their way up north. My mom grew up in the Trilby area and attended Whitmer High School,” Vásquez says.

Vásquez is very active in the Latino community, serving every year as a facilitator at the University of Toledo’s Latino Youth Summit. He also serves on the CASA board. Previously, Stephen was involved with FLOC and Diamante, and also started the Latino Student Union while employed at Lourdes College.

Four of the Latinos are information and referral (I&R) specialists with United Way 2-1-1.

Ricardo Elizondo
“I have been employed at United Way 2-1-1 since 1989. At the time, I was the only Hispanic employee in the agency,” recalls Ricardo. “I have enjoyed working here at United Way and witnessing the progress United Way has made in its involvement with the Latino community through the years. I am very proud about United Way’s growing involvement with the Latino community. The Latino community is more than happy to be a part of the spirit of giving, because we Latinos have a lot to offer our community, including time, culture, skills, and, money.

“I am of Latino descent of Mexican-American families that sprung up through the southwest desert lands of Texas, Nevada, New México, Arizona, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, California, Colorado, and Utah. During the time of the Mexican Revolution from the Spanish Rule, a lot of these families remained in these lands to live after Spain left and continued to thrive as Mexican citizens until the Mexican-American War, which then followed with the separation of the two countries. My parents and grandparents and great – grandparents were among those families that settled in the Austin and San Antonio, Victoria and Cuero, Texas areas,” says Ricardo.         

Anamaria Portillo
Anamaria and the other three information and referral (I&R) specialists provide information and referrals in person, by phone, and outside in the community. All I&R specialists participate in community outreach events such as health fairs, festivals and educational events.

“I am happy to be working for an organization that assists the community in such a real meaningful way. I always feel I’ve done my job when I’m able to help someone in crisis,” says Anamaria.

“My parents are of Mexican descent; my father is from the state of Jalisco, México.  My mother was born here in the US, but my grandparents were also from México,” Anamaria adds.

Anamaria joined United Way in Oct. 2008.  She is a part-time I&R specialist and also a part-time case manager at the Monroe Street Neighborhood Center also known as “The Bridge.” There she facilitates a training program called Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting-By World: Building Resources for a Better Life, a 15-week program designed to help the target audience (people in poverty) to become more self sufficient.

Anamaria also provides I&R at Claver House, a soup kitchen run by Saint Martin de Porres Church.

Marta Sandoval
“As a bilingual information and referral specialist, it’s a great feeling to know I can assist people in both English and Spanish,” explains Marta Sandoval. “Many Latinos go through struggles just like anyone else, but have a communication barrier and less knowledge of where to go for help. That is why it is such a good feeling to be able to help someone and know they fully understand what to do in order to receive assistance from resources in their community.

“I am of Mexican origin, born in a small village called La Mora in the state of Guanajuato, México. I have been with United Way 2-1-1 for almost one year and a half, which includes the internships I have done in the previous year,” says Sandoval.

 Jessica Stoner
Jessica works as an administrative assistant for United Way 2-1-1 and also coordinates their Earned Income Tax credit program each year.

“I truly love working here at United Way,” says Jessica. “It’s great working where I can help people and feel good doing it.”

Jessica was born in Adrian, Michigan. “My mother and father are both Hispanic. We moved here when I was five years old and I have lived here ever since. My family has always helped people in the community.  My father today still works in a small meat store in East Toledo and was an 82nd Chapter Person for many years and was very involved in the community. My mother worked for Food Town for 20 years and every time Food Town did something that was fun or to lend a hand, we where there. That is how I learned how to make thing work out the best way,” she recalls.

 “I went to Owens Community College, and the University of Toledo. After school, I worked at La Prensa, Focus Homeless Prevention Agency, St. Marks Church, Lucas County MRDD, COSI of Toledo, and Corrigan Moving United Van Lines. Every place I worked at trained me for the experience I am having here, and that is how I can share a little of what I have learned from all the work place and to be the best I can be,” adds Jessica, who has been with United Way for a year-and-a-half.

Melissa Alvarado
“I absolutely love my job!” says Melissa Alvarado. “ I love working with people and I find it very rewarding and get a great deal of satisfaction knowing I was able to provide help and, hopefully, a little hope to people in need.”

Melissa was born in El Paso, Texas “which makes me an American of Mexican decent as my parents are both from México. Although I was born in the United States, I was raised with a strong cultural background and was brought up knowing my Mexican heritage and the language,” she explains.

Melissa Alvarado of United Way with María Teresa of Head Start.

“I have been at United Way since Dec. 2007,” says Melissa. Her many community involvements include working with migrant farm workers. “Migrant Outreach and I go out to the migrant camps during the summer with F.L.O.C. and a Mobile Medical Unit and volunteer Doctors, Nurses and Interpreters, and we provide medical services, information and referral, clothing, food, toys, books and a variety of other items,” she explains.

“I am also on the Lucas County Hunger Task Force, and am also a certified Bilingual HIV/AIDS Advisor/Counselor for the Ohio Department of Health. I also participate as a member of the CARE Team (The Community Asset & Resource Engagement Team), a project of Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak.

“CARE is a collaboration of social service agencies and programs that go into underserved areas of our community and provide services such as medical care, health and hygiene products, job training grants, volunteer opportunities, and books for children, as well as information and referrals. I am also involved with other outreach and advocacy programs as needed,” says Melissa.

Maricela Alcala
Maricela has been United Way’s Technology Resource Manager since March 2007. She is responsible for maintaining the resource database, which has approximately 800 agencies listed, and ensuring that all agency information is accurate and updated regularly. She originally joined United Way in Jan. 2006 as an Information & Referral Specialist (Bilingual).

“I love my job,” says Maricela. “Helping people get connected to resources is very rewarding, especially when we are able to provide assistance to the Latino Community by offering services in their language. “

Maricela was born in Toledo but lived in México for 18 years. Her father is Rafaél Angel and her mother is Diana Romo de Angel.

Maricela and United Way have compiled statistics on the number of Latino families that have been assisted by United Way 2-1-1. They show a marked increase in Latinos seeking the service.

2006 -------- 96 served.
2007 --------- 164 served.
2008 ----------590 served.

Editor’s Note: This article could not have been written without the expert help and cooperation of Kelli M. Kreps, the Marketing Coordinator for Media of United Way of Greater Toledo. In the photo, taken by Ms. Kreps, are, L-R: Milva, Ricardo, Melissa, Marta, Jessica, Maricela, Anamaria, and Stephen.





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