Agency highlights services, recognizes leaders

ROCHESTER — Angelica Pérez had a baby at 16. Ten years later, she was a single mother with three children.

"I was at the beginning of my professional career," she said, having obtained her GED and an associate’s degree. "But I had three jobs, so my children went from family member to family member while I worked. As I (went) from the poor to the working poor, I still did not make enough to make ends meet or become self-sufficient."

And then she connected with Ibero-American Action League, Pérez explained during the agency’s 46th-annual luncheon held Oct. 24 at the Hyatt Regency Rochester hotel.

While she qualified for one of its child-care programs one year and then not the next because of income changes, Ibero staff worked out a way for the young mother to pay for the services and were patient when payments were missed or late, Pérez said.

"Ibero did something other agencies didn’t do. They worked with me to receive … high quality family services and child care," she said.

Because of that kind of support, Pérez has gone on to receive a master’s degree in health administration and is now a vice president at the Villa of Hope, she said to applause from the more than 500 people in attendance. And she also is an Ibero board member, Pérez added.

"I’m eager to give back what’s been given to me," she remarked. "I’m so grateful (Ibero) … bet on me."

Providing early childhood services is one of the agency’s main offerings, which also include youth mentorship, job readiness training and a college scholarship program, said Hilda Rosario Escher, executive director and chief executive officer.

"We all have the power to strengthen our community and can do this by strengthening our children, our youth and our families," she said.

Enhancing the knowledge of that next generation about the long Spanish history in North America should also be a mission for all Latinos, said keynote speaker Silvio Torres-Sailant, a professor of English at Syracuse University.

Ibero collaborated with Rochester Institute of Technology to sponsor his Rochester visit, said Kevin McDonald, the university’s vice president and provost for diversity and inclusion.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Torres-Sailant is fluent in five languages and served as former director of the Latino-Latin American Studies program at SU. He also was the founding director of the Dominican Studies Institute at the City University of New York.

"When Mexico was annexed, its long cultural heritage made the U.S. rich as a result," he said. "I hope you can commit yourselves to (ensure) that school programs at various levels incorporate knowledge of the various ethnicities that make up the culture that is our United States."

Also during the luncheon, Ibero recognized several local community leaders:

* Friend of the Year: Maureen McGuire, news anchor at WROC Channel 8.

* Volunteer of the Year: Ivette Torres, public affairs lead analyst at Rochester Gas & Electric.

* Lo Mejor de lo Nuestro (Our Best): Jorge Díaz-Herrera, president of Keuka College.

* Alicia Torres Award: Juana Vega, assistant director of the St. John Fisher College office of multicultural affairs & diversity programs and coordinator of the Miss Puerto Rico of Rochester pageant.

Peter Carpino, outgoing executive director of the United Way of Rochester, also received a surprise community service award for his "strong support of the Latino community," said Rosario Escher.

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