Ms. Parra first moved to Toledo from her native Venezuela in 2000 to get married to a man who grew up in the Glass City, but the couple divorced three years later. Her 20-year old son now lives with her, while he attends Bowling Green State University to study video and film photography.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in this instance. Ms. Parra did radio and TV work in Venezuela, in addition to starting her own marketing company. She also attended law school for two years while there.
“I stopped doing that because it was more fun doing radio and TV at that time,” she said, explaining that she was part of a four-person radio show at the tender age of 19. “It was all about youth. We would dance and talk and all sorts of fun stuff.”
Ms. Parra later moved to a show about the environment and then a community-oriented talk show format. The subject matter of her shows, ironically, matured as she did.
She first started the Nuestra Gente radio show in 2005, then formed her nonprofit of the same name three years later.
“We wanted to extend the services to the community, not just through the radio show,” she said. “Through the nonprofit, we’ve been able to serve the community through our different programs—not just the radio show. It was always about service, but it’s come around about health.”
Ms. Parra decided to try to help Latino families obtain the proper health screenings after watching a sister survive breast cancer, her mom pass away from a heart attack on the way to the hospital in her brother’s car, and lost her father due to complications related to diabetes. Those all occurred in her native Venezuela, which does not have the extensive medical system available in the U.S.
“It served as an inspiration to me,” she said. “You have all the tools, equipment, professional here that can help you to be healthy. Why not do it here, you just have to put everything together and make that project work, helping people in the community to be healthier and not to die at such a young age.”
One of 14 children, she decided she wanted no other Latino family to go through that emotional pain if those diseases could be prevented or managed.
“It’s something I have a passion for, I feel satisfied doing it, and I like to keep going,” she said, joking that sometimes her days are “20 hours long.”
Some of those days get long, because Ms. Parra is now spending a considerable part of her summer at the migrant farmworker camps across Northwest Ohio, providing health screenings and related education to the families who stay there.
“Not having family here, just my son and me, doing community projects is a sort of compensation for not having the family here. Spending time, serving the community, is something that keeps me busy and I like to do it,” she added.
Ms. Parra admitted there’s a void there, because she hasn’t been back to see her family in Venezuela since 2006. She stated she was “always busy” and “playing” growing up with a baker’s dozen of siblings. To this day, being around people is a must for her, she said. Her goal is to return to South America for a visit “later this year, if not next year.”
Knowing that today’s nonprofit world is one of struggle and survival, Ms. Parra is happy Nuestra Gente has lasted even this long.
“We didn’t get any grants until 2010. Until then, we were zero,” she said with a nervous laugh. The first grant was an HIV prevention funding through the Ohio Dept. of Health, administered by the Toledo-Lucas County Health Dept.
Nuestra Gente has since expanded to provide checkups to Spanish-speaking families, which include free screenings for blood pressure, blood sugar, HIV and other preventable diseases. A mobile screening vehicle will appear at festivals throughout the summer, including the annual Sts. Peter and Paul Festival on Saturday, August 2 and MidWest LatinoFest on Saturday, August 30.
Now Ms. Parra has her eye on another goal—starting and managing a small radio station that will focus on traditional and contemporary worship music and talk shows dealing with Catholicism, a faith where her roots run deep.
She has booked a recent series of concerts with Mexican singer/songwriter: a May 24th concert in Oregon with Priscilla, another on July 4 in Fostoria with Gela, and her next concert is Sunday, August 9, 4 p.m., with Darwin Lechler at St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 736 S. St. Clair St. in Toledo. A $10 donation is requested at the door. The concerts are aimed at raising money for the low-power FM radio station.
“I like to organize events, put things out there for the community,” she said. “Also, we have to buy equipment (for the radio station) and the antenna, everything we need. We’re now waiting on the permit.”
Ms. Parra hopes to receive the permit by October, so she can get the radio station up and running sometime this fall.