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César Chávez is seen in April 1979. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko (Source: Library of Congress)

Inside MCF

Meet the César Chávez Community Heroes of 2019

March 28, 2019

For César Chávez Day, March 31, Marguerite Casey Foundation is honoring 36 community leaders who are continuing the legacy of the late farmworker and civil rights advocate. Please join in celebrating their work for a more just and equitable society.

Teresa Barrera – A Great-Grandmother Who Wants All Youth to Benefit


Hero’s name: Teresa Barrera

Home city: Alamo, Texas

The person’s organization: La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE)

Why is this person a community hero?

“Doña Teresa Barrera is a community hero from the colonia, El Jay, in Alamo, Texas. She is an immigrant from Matamoros, Mexico, who first moved to El Jay in 1986 when there were only seven other homes on her block.

Cesar Chavez Community Hero, Cesar Chavez Day, Marguerite Casey Foundation, community organizing, movement building, poverty

Teresa Barrera

Not too long after her arrival in El Jay, Doña Teresa organized her neighbors in 1987 to address the lack of potable water, paved streets, drainage and sewage infrastructure and street lights. At first, with the assistance of La Unión de Campesinos (UFW) and then of La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), she organized colonia meetings motivating her neighbors to advocate for their own needs before elected county officials. Due in large part to her efforts, colonia El Jay secured potable water, paved streets, drainage and sewage infrastructure and street lights.

Over the course of 31 years of leadership, Doña Barrera became a key figure at county commissioners’ hearings, community rallies and LUPE gatherings. Though now recently retired and slightly frail due to health issues, she continues to attend colonia meetings and encourage the development of new colonia leadership. “I lack the strength, but remain with the desire to continue organizing,” she says.

Doña Barrera’s vision for an equitable world is one where everyone benefits from all of the rights and privileges she wishes for her children. Doña Barrera has eight children, 23 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren.”

Honored by: Norma Herrera of LUPE

Ashana Bigard – Her Focus: Keeping New Orleans Youth in School


Hero’s name: Ashana Bigard

Home city: New Orleans

The person’s organization: Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC)

Ashana Bigard

Why is this person a community hero? 

“Ashana is a consultant with Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), and she works to support other nonprofits and youth around education equity. She works numerous hours running from school to school, meeting to meeting and house to house, making sure our children are not kicked out of school for ridiculous infractions.

She spends many hours fighting our New Orleans Charter School nightmare, making sure parent and youth experiences are heard over the loud noise being put forth about the charter experiment.

Ashana is also the mother of three children, two who attend schools in New Orleans and one of her children is on the autism spectrum. Being a single parent is hard enough. But she is a single parent who has to fight for proper education for her own children. She still finds the time, strength and courage to fight for all children. She also writes about what is happening in charter schools.”

Honored by: Gina Womack of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC)

Donna Blackwell – Working to Close Racial Divide in Baltimore City 


Hero’s name: Donna Blackwell

Home city: Baltimore

The person’s organization: York Road Partnership

Why is this person a community hero? 

Donna Blackwell

“Donna Blackwell is a civil rights hero from the Winston-Govans neighborhood of Baltimore City.  As president of the volunteer-run York Road Partnership, Donna oversees this collaborative of neighborhoods and resident leaders divided by a commercial corridor that many in the area believe was planned to racially segregate people and places.

Through Donna’s leadership, she ensures neighborhoods and the nonprofits, faith institutions, universities and people within them work through collective impact to break down the racial divide and develop long-term strategies to address the disparities across the corridor, including the 10-year life expectancy difference and 50 percent difference in third-grade, reading-level proficiency.

Donna is in the midst of leading the development of a 10-year collaborative vision to target a population level change for ‘opportunity youth’ in the neighborhoods.”

Honored by: Erin O’Keefe

Dreama Caldwell – Ending Cash Bail in N.C. Is Part of Her Reform Work


Hero’s name: Dreama Caldwell

Home city: Mebane, North Carolina.

The person’s organization: Down Home NC (works with People’s Action)

Why is this person a community hero? 

Dreama Caldwell

“Dreama Caldwell is a leader within the Alamance Chapter of Down Home NC. Dreama came to Down Home because she is a native of Alamance County and has a deep love of her community and family. She and her husband have been married for 11 years, and together they have a blended family with five children, ranging in ages from 18 to 23.

Her fight is focused on racial justice transformation and freedom. Within Down Home, she is doing that work within the context of our ending cash bail work. As an African-American woman who has been formerly incarcerated, she is clear that the criminal justice system has disproportionately impacted people of color and working people. So, she has been leading our working group to get the first cash bail fund implemented in Alamance County. It would support the freedom of people who have bail under $2,000.

She has also been a tireless advocate within the North Carolina General Assembly by advocating for a ‘Second Chance’ policy change at the state level. Outside of Down Home, she continues to push for justice within Alamance County by doing work around veterans’ assistance and hygiene justice work – providing sanitary products for women and families in need.”

Honored by: Brigid Flaherty and Todd Zimmer both of Down Home NC

Martha Camacho – ‘She Is One Call Away’ to Support Her Texas Colonia


Hero’s name: Martha Camacho

Martha Camacho

Home city: San Benito, Texas

The person’s organization: La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE)

Why is this person a community hero? 

“Martha first joined LUPE at a meeting held at the park in her colonia, La Paloma. She has been highly active in campaigns to improve her colonia ever since. Last Christmas, she along with her colonia committee raised funds for a Christmas Posada offered to the children of her colonia. The children received gifts, food and a visit from Santa! Martha’s leadership was instrumental.

Martha also participated in the get out the vote campaign with LUPE this past election. She helped community members learn how to vote, including her daughter, Ana, who canvassed and voted for the first time.

Martha has been working with the LUPE organizing team in Cameron and Hidalgo counties. Not only does she help at rallies and at community meetings, she takes part in significant and courageous conversations such as the one with the Port Isabel chief of police. Along with other LUPE leaders, Martha asked the chief of police to adopt local policies that protect families instead of separating families. She asked the chief of police to prioritize local law enforcement issues that actually protect and benefit our immediate communities.

When Martha is not organizing with us, she is fundraising for her church congregation, Grupo Apologetica.

Martha is an active leader in Cameron County, and she is one call away. ‘Tu dime cuando quieres que te ayude. Cuando estés lista, nadamás llámame!’ We want to recognize Martha for being an outstanding leader of LUPE, always at the ready to make social change!”

Honored by: Agripina Gomez of LUPE


Eva Chavez, Cesar Chavez Day, LUPE, Marguerite Casey Foundation, community organizing, poverty, movement building, Rio Grande Valley, Latino, social justice, philanthropy
Eva Chavez and LUPE community leaders

Eva Chavez – She Hosts Health Events and Encourages Women to be Heard 


Hero’s name: Eva Chavez

Home city: Mission, Texas

The person’s organization: La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE)

Why is this person a community hero?

“If you ever attend public events hosted by either LUPE, the Poderosas or Fuerza del Valle, you will have the honor of tasting Eva Chavez’s home-cooked meals. Eva volunteers to make sure the community has the energy to shout and make noise against any political issues facing our community. Always with a smile and spoon in hand, Eva is ready to serve and be of service to others.

Despite the many obstacles throughout her life, she has persisted.

Though a woman with a quiet demeanor, she is outspoken. She holds strong opinions and is vocal regarding these. Despite the many obstacles throughout her life, she has persisted. She motivates other women, especially her own sisters, to participate and be heard.

As a member and leader of LUPE and Las Poderosas, she hosts many community health events.  She makes sure that people attend these events where they can learn about the various organizations that offer necessary health resources.

Every year, Eva’s contribution to the César Chávez March is outstanding. She sells a lot of  tickets to ensure people can own a César Chávez March T-shirt for free. And of course, Eva delights the participants with her food.

In summary, Eva Chavez is a motivational leader, a successful fundraiser, and a fantastic cook. She is definitely a César Chávez Hero.”

Honored by: Cristela Rocha and Marco A. Lopez of LUPE

Hal Clark – Radio Host Focuses on Stories of NOLA’s Black Community


Hero’s name: Hal Clark

Home city: New Orleans

The person’s organization: 98.5 WYLD (FM 98)

Why is this person a community hero? 

Hal Clark

“Hal Clark, a New Orleans native playwright, producer and collaborator in theater, has lent his voice through media to educate the community about important issues. Giving local and national Black folks the opportunity to express their stories and business since 2002, his radio show, 98.5 WYLD Sunday Journal, has served as one of the most important media programs in New Orleans. He has received the Best Radio Talk-Show Award by the Press Club of New Orleans.

Whether it is politics, education, health and wellness, social justice, civil rights, financial health, homeownership or the myriad of issues that surround New Orleans, the nation and our world, Sunday Journal delivers what FM 98 listeners crave to hear. Sunday Journal provides listeners with the opportunity to not only hear from major figures from New Orleans, but also from around the nation and world.

In addition, listeners get the opportunity to engage in conversation, ask questions and maybe even debate Sunday Journal guests. Whether they are local leaders, national leaders, people of significance, celebrities or everyday folks, they all get an opportunity to be heard on Sunday Journal.

Hal has been a solid rock in our community. His unique voice and deliverance give hope to all his listeners. We salute you for your 19 years and look forward to the next 19 years. Ashe!”

Honored by: Ernest Johnson of Ubuntu Village

José Antonio Cruz – He Seeks to Open College Doors for More Families


Hero’s name: José Antonio Cruz

Home city: San Diego

The person’s organization: Barrio Logan College Institute (BLCI)

Why is this person a community hero?

José Antonio Cruz

“José Antonio Cruz was born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. In 1983, his mother left everything behind to move to San Diego in search of medical services for Jose’s brother, Gabriel, who was born with brain damage and cerebral palsy. José grew up in a single-parent home in City Heights. He was the first in his immediate family to go to college.

While in college he wondered why none of his close friends from the neighborhood enrolled in college with him. Some of them dropped out of high school. He conducted research on Latino identification with high academic achievement while at San Diego State University and later went on to Harvard University to study community-based prevention programs for at-risk students.

In 2009, José was hired as the chief executive officer of Barrio Logan College Institute (BLCI), a nonprofit organization geared toward helping families from disadvantaged backgrounds access higher education to effect positive change in the community. Ten years later, José hired Barbara Ybarra and Cynthia Billings, two of César Chávez’s granddaughters to drastically increase the impact created in the lives of families in San Diego.”

Honored by: Francisco “Panchito” Martinez, a 2017 recipient of Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Leadership Award

AYUDA community leaders. Photo courtesy of Nadia Figueroa of AYUDA

Olivia Figueroa – Ex-Domestic Worker Supports Empowering Community


Hero’s name: Olivia Figueroa

Home city: San Elizario, Texas

The person’s organization: Adult and Youth United Development Association, Inc. (AYUDA)

Why is this person a community hero?

“Olivia Figueroa, the executive director of AYUDA, used to be a domestic worker. She crossed the border from Mexico in 1986, looking for ‘a better life, or what they call the American Dream.’ She headed west to Los Angeles and found a job as a housekeeper for a local family. At first, Figueroa expected to work her shifts each day and go home each night. But the family encouraged her to live with them.

Olivia Figueroa and AYUDA community leaders

They gave her food and shelter rent-free, but it came at a hidden price: Since she was always there, she was always expected to work. And since she was undocumented, she wasn’t expected to speak up. ‘She would mention things to them – that she wanted to find a better job, get better pay – and they said they would call immigration and she could get deported,’ her daughter, Nadia Figueroa, said.

Finally, at the urging of a stranger she met at a local bus stop, Olivia Figueroa fled. It’s been more than three decades since Figueroa came to the United States, and she’s long been liberated from that job. But conditions for women at the border are eerily similar today.

AYUDA serves to empower communities that are often difficult to reach, yet, their grassroots strategy successfully reaches those who need it most. Housing is a major part of AYUDA’s work, building more than 120 homes in 15 years in the unincorporated rural areas of El Paso County of Texas, where HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) funding is not available to provide affordable housing for residents who are employed in low-paying jobs.”

Honored by: Cemelli de Aztlan of El Paso Equal Voice Network

Ana Guevara – Community Health Worker ‘Never Hesitates to Offer a Hand’


Hero’s name: Ana Guevara

Home city: Brownsville, Texas

The person’s organization: La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE)

Why is this person a community hero?

Ana Guevara

“Ana, who joined LUPE a little over a year ago, is an exemplary human. Despite some health issues, Ana maintains a kind demeanor and a helping disposition. She never hesitates to offer a hand or a ride to her co-workers and other members of the community.

As a community health worker, she is very experienced. Patients always walk away satisfied with her help and advice. She is really driven to make a difference, one person at a time.

I am honored to work alongside Ana. She is not only dependable as a co-worker, she is a source of inspiration. I watch in awe how much she can accomplish while living with her health issues. She is determined. I also admire her so much for raising her son, now an officer with the U.S. military, as a widow.  Though soft spoken, Ana is nothing but strength and courage.”

Honored by: Jesus Montalvo of LUPE

Maricela Gutiérrez – A ‘Phenomenal’ Advocate in Bay Area and Fresno


Hero’s name: Maricela Gutiérrez

Home city: San Jose and Fresno (California)

The person’s organization: SIREN (Services Immigrant Rights & Education Network)

Why is this person a community hero?

“Maricela is a phenomenal movement and spiritual leader in the immigrant and refugee rights movement. She is an impacted community member. She has a beautiful and bold vision of what is possible for communities. She is committed to centering wisdoms and leadership of those most impacted by racism/patriarchy/capitalism/intersectional oppression. She’s a driver. She’s a very successful fundraiser. She cares deeply about people, and she has the utmost integrity. She understands the difference between building for a moment as opposed to building for a movement.

Maricela Gutierrez

To this end, Maricela exhibits an extraordinary ability for folks to come to the table and be heard on their issues/ideas/pivots. She’s rebuilt the organization from the ground up and created infrastructure for SIREN for long-term sustainability. She’s doubled the staff and organization size and almost tripled the budget and placed SIREN on the national landscape.

Maricela understands the reality of what lies ahead but is willing to forge a new reality, absorbing the challenges, learning from them and pivoting as needed. She is a working mother and models work-life balance with her staff.

Maricela immigrant roots come from México. She was raised in the Central Valley, near Fresno. Her parents are both agricultural workers. Her dad worked in the fields, and growing up, Maricela worked alongside her mom in Central Valley packing houses. Growing up and to this day, César Chávez and the farmworker movement had a big influence in her political identity and advocacy aspirations.

In her ‘spare’ time, she sits on the Statewide Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project Board, Central Valley LEAP and the Museum of Oakland Latino Committee. Maricela is a model leader, who leads by being the change she wants to see in the world.”

Honored by: Tomas Margain of SIREN

Sonji Hart – FFLIC Staffer Ensures ‘Families Get the Support They Need’


Hero’s name: Sonji Hart

Home city: Hammond, Louisiana

The person’s organization: Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC)

Why is this person a community hero?

Sonji Hart

“As the deputy director of finance and administration of FFLIC, Sonji is tasked with grants administration, HR, financial operations and general day-to-day work. That includes working with the executive director ensuring the financial health of the organization and making sure staff and members have whatever is needed to get work done.

We don’t recognize enough the back-office staff, which I think is a mistake. Sonji works hard to support our staff and members who are all impacted by the issues we work on. She makes sure staff get paid on time and members get stipends or other financial support as needed. She encourages our members and will work with them if they seek to develop their computer skills. She works hard to write up their stories when we apply for fellowships or awards for families, ensuring their stories honor the families and all they have been through.

Sonji struggles with health issues and cares for her ailing mother, while making sure our organization’s finances are tight. She still finds the time to support our families across the state of Louisiana.

I hope Sonji gets this recognition because she is definitely our hero. FFLIC wouldn’t get the recognition it does without her making sure every penny we spend is accounted for and well documented and that our families get the support they need.”

Honored by: Gina Womack of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC)

Valerie Horn

Valerie Horn – She Helps Ky. Families Gain Access to Fresh Vegetables


Hero’s name: Valerie Horn

Home city: Whitesburg, Kentucky

The person’s organization: Appal-TREE Project

Why is this person a community hero?

“Valerie Ison Horn, a retired teacher and counselor, now works in local foods in Letcher County, Kentucky.

As director of Appal-TREE Project, a collaboration of Community Farm Alliance and the University of Kentucky, Valerie coordinates the Farmacy program at the Letcher County Farmers Market.

I work with local foods and food nutrition, but I also look at it as community building, helping neighbors.

The Farmacy program is a partnership with Mountain Comprehensive Health Corp. where patients who see their physician and have an illness which could benefit from a better diet are given prescriptions for fresh fruits and vegetables to be redeemed at the Farmers Market at no cost to the patient. She also helps coordinate the Summer Feeding Program with Letcher County Public Schools.

‘I work with local foods and food nutrition, but I also look at it as community building, helping neighbors, buying food from neighbors, sharing seeds with neighbors, the better our community grows,’ Valerie said.

Another project she assists with is Grow Appalachia, an effort to address food security in Appalachia. One of their main initiatives is to assist families in learning to grow their own food: ‘What I like about Grow Appalachia is that we are trying to reconnect those folks with the skills, provide opportunities and reduce barriers so folks can learn, experiment and find out if gardening is for them. Grow Appalachia has about 60 family gardeners, 20 market gardeners and 10 community gardens.’

Valerie is an incredible force in her community and is an example of a community hero working toward a just and equitable society.”

Honored by: Ariel Fugate of MACED (Mountain Association for Community Economic Development)

Leroy Johnson – A Longtime Leader in the South, He Advocates for Justice


Hero’s name: Leroy Johnson

Home city: Jackson, Mississippi

The person’s organization: Southern Echo, Inc.

Why is this person a community hero?

“Leroy Johnson is being lifted up as a community hero in his current position as senior policy analyst with Southern Echo, Inc. However, it is noteworthy to mention that he was one of the co-founders of Southern Echo (January 1993). He then held other positions within Southern Echo, such as chief financial officer and executive director for 15 years.

Leroy Johnson

Leroy Johnson’s business and professional affiliations include his work with census, redistricting and voting rights. In 1986, as lead organizer, he filed the first voting rights lawsuit against the city of Lexington in Mississippi. In 1988, he led the first census count ordered by the Judiciary in Mississippi to be used as the count to redistrict a municipality. He would provide testimony as a demographic expert in federal court in the Lexington, Mississippi legal case.

Mr. Johnson’s community work continued from 1990 to 2000, providing training for community members to be census enumerators to increase the participation and return rate for four counties in the Mississippi Delta. He worked on training on demography and GIS mapping, as well as leading community cartographers across six states from 2002 to 2008. He was a lead trainer on census and redistricting issues in 45 counties across Mississippi and in 13 states from 2008 to 2011.

In spring 2012, at Mississippi Valley State University, Mr. Johnson lectured in the Jake Ayers visiting series. Mr. Johnson addressed the economics of public education in the Mississippi Delta and southeast region. His community work continued in 2018 where he provided L.U.C.A. training to elected and appointed officials in four Mississippi Delta counties and one municipality.

In 1986, as lead organizer, he filed the first voting rights lawsuit against the city of Lexington.

Mr. Johnson has assisted his community in areas of education forum and rural education. He co-founded Southern Partners Fund Public Charity in Atlanta, helping to provide its first grant in the southeast region to 12 states.

His professional skills and experience include serving as a board member and fundraiser. For leadership efforts, he has focused on supporting youth, board and organization development, strategic planning, program development, environmental justice, nonprofit management, organizing and building an investment portfolio for small to mid-size community organizations. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Mississippi Valley State University.”

Honored by: Janice M. Harper of Nollie Jenkins Family Center

Raul Macias – He Started a Soccer League to Give Youth Good Opportunities


Hero’s name: Raul Macias

Home city: Los Angeles

The person’s organization: Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM)

Why is this person a community hero?

“Raul Macias is a community leader driven by his passion to fight for justice, respect and equality for families.

Raul Macias

For over 20 years, Macias has committed to empower immigrant families in Los Angeles County. He founded the Anahuak Youth Soccer Association to provide opportunities to underserved youth in his community. With limited financial resources, Macias started this endeavor purchasing soccer balls, jerseys and nets and invited youth to form soccer teams and play at Taylor Yard (Rio de Los Angeles). He required youth to provide their grade cards to ensure they were doing well in school.

Anahuak Youth Soccer Association now serves over 2,000 children from Lincoln Heights, Montebello, Highland Park, Central LA, Tujunga and Hollywood. In addition to expanding the league, Macias has organized families to advocate for better urban parks for children to play in.

In 2007, after a successful campaign, Taylor Yard became the first new state park in Los Angeles in a generation. Macias played a very important role in this victory. He organized and mobilized families to advocate for this important project. During that time, many children were often on the street crowding around liquor stores or experimenting with graffiti. However, with the improvement made to Taylor Yard, the neighborhood changed. For instance, the neighborhood became safer due to a reduction of violent incidents on the streets.

Macias observed how asthma and smog have affected children disproportionately in their soccer games, especially in neighborhoods along freeways or in industrial zones. He is concerned to see how children living in areas with poor air quality lose their breath easier and have asthma attacks. Macias decided to advocate for sustainable changes to protect the environment.  As part of COFEM’s board of directors, Macias has been very instrumental in COFEM’s redesign of environmental initiatives.”

Honored by: Anabella Bastida of Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM)

Stephanie Maldonado – Organizing for the Common Good Is Her Priority


Hero’s name: Stephanie Maldonado

Home city: Phoenix

The person’s organization: Arizona Center for Empowerment

Why is this person a community hero?

Stephanie Maldonado

“Stephanie Maldonado is an organizing director at Arizona Center for Empowerment (ACE), where she manages statewide initiatives, educational programs and political education classes.

This past year, Stephanie led a nonpartisan campaign to help register 20,000 individual new voters in Arizona. And at the state legislative level in 2018, Stephanie’s political education leadership was critical to stopping the attacks on the voter-approved minimum wage and paid sick days, as well as independent redistricting. More than that, Stephanie also helped manage ACE’s community schools and educational justice programs.

In 2016, she was also critical to managing a statewide ballot initiative that eventually led to raising Arizona’s minimum wage to $12 by 2020 that resonated with Arizona’s voters, who passed it by 58 percent.

By way of background, Stephanie moved to Arizona to attend Arizona State University, from which she graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Stephanie grew up in a mixed-status home, with two siblings who are U.S. citizens, a permanent resident father and an undocumented mother. Her mom self-deported, and her family was separated, which inspired her to help others.”

Honored by: Christopher Gilfillan of Arizona Center for Empowerment (ACE)

Carlos Martinez – He Believes Education Empowers All Families


Hero’s name: Carlos Martinez

Home city: Huntington Park, California

The person’s organization: Federacion Duranguense USA

Why is this person a community hero?

“Carlos Martinez deserves the recognition of being named a community hero, carrying on the movement building legacy of César Chávez, for his devotion of many years to providing immigrant families with opportunities to advance within their respective communities.

Carlos Martinez

As César Chávez fought for a more just world for field workers, Mr. Martinez is following in his footsteps, dedicating his life to empowering immigrant families by improving their quality of lives through education. He currently serves as the director of the Federacion Duranguense, where his passion for the families he serves is reflected in his daily efforts. Mr. Martinez has worked with the Federacion Duranguense for the last 10 years and implemented basic educational programs to assist immigrants, primarily from Mexico. They learn to read and write to increase advancement opportunities. As a result of the work of Mr. Martinez and his team, hundreds of immigrants have had the opportunity to learn in a family-oriented environment, not only the basics of reading and writing but computer and English language classes.

In addition to his work in promoting educational opportunities, Mr. Martinez also understands that civic engagement is key for upward mobility. As a board member of the Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM), Mr. Martinez has been a key proponent of the organization’s cultural programs, naturalization services and civic engagement efforts within the Latino community. Under his leadership, the Federacion Duranguense has been instrumental in supporting and organizing citizenship workshops.

Mr. Martinez believes strongly in providing Latino families the tools and resources to strengthen and advocate for a better life and achieve upward mobility. Undoubtedly, recognizing the legacy of people like Carlos Martinez who are humble and who dedicate their work for the welfare of others deserves a special recognition like that of Marguerite Casey Foundation to honor the life of the great César Chávez.”

Honored by: Anabella Bastida of Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM)

Gina Mendez – New Voters Are One Result of Her Civic Engagement Work


Hero’s name: Gina Mendez

Home city: Phoenix

The person’s organization: Arizona Center for Empowerment

Why is this person a community hero?

Gina Mendez

“Miriam ‘Gina’ Mendez is the civic engagement director for Arizona Center for Empowerment, which empowers youth to create a better Arizona through advocacy and political education. Through that work, Gina has managed three cohorts for our civic education courses for youth, walking our young people, many of color, through what it means to be an active participant in democracy.

Through that, she has have engaged with several dozen leaders who stay active in our organization. The program itself is currently active in more than eight high schools and many community and traditional colleges in Phoenix.

Also, through her work, 20,000 new voters were registered in 2018 through ACE’s ‘Voteria’ program, and she led ACE Lobby Day, where nearly 100 students went to the state Legislature to educate their legislators. In 2018, she also captained ACE’s ‘Asamblea’ program, which helped educate and empower dozens of high school and college students.

As a way of background, Gina was part of Arizona’s first student walkouts at César Chávez High School when students from schools across the country walked out to protest so-called ‘border protection’ bill, HR 4437. It was the first time she experienced racism, which later continued as SB 1070 was introduced in Arizona.

Gina graduated from Arizona State University, and as president of the Hispanic Honor Society, she restructured the club from and academic and professional organization to a social justice student organization that focused on issues within the Hispanic community and culture and identity. This began her organizing journey, and she started volunteering for economic justice in the Fight for $15 campaign, which she helped lead. The campaign ended up raising the minimum wage for more than 900,000 Arizonans.”

Honored by: Christopher Gilfillan of Arizona Center for Empowerment (ACE)

Erin Okuno – Seattle Woman Takes a Stand for Authentic Equity


Hero’s name: Erin Okuno

Home city: Seattle

The person’s organization: Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC)

Why is this person a community hero?

“Erin Okuno is an education justice warrior fighting against fake equity through her work at Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC) and through her personal ethos.

Erin Okuno

She is an advocate for children who experience education injustice by:

  • Working to advocate for policies and practices that improve education for children of color, especially those living in Southeast Seattle.
  • Convening partners to break down barriers and advance a common vision.
  • Building collaboration within the education community.
  • Sharing information about education in Southeast Seattle.
  • Encouraging communities of color to be actively engaged.
  • Educating funders and the education community about engaging communities of color.

Erin also makes decisionmakers and those in powerful roles uncomfortable when they make decisions without authentic engagement of those farthest away from opportunities. She has built the trust of stakeholders by listening to community.”

Honored by: Carmen Loh

Jearlean Osborne – She Advocates for Early Childhood Education in Miss.


Hero’s name: Jearlean Osborne

Home city: Biloxi, Mississippi

The person’s organization: Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative (MLICCI)

Why is this person a community hero?

Jearlean Osborne

“Jearlean Osborne is the director of Child Care Matters and a community organizer for the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative. She has organized community groups for more than 20 years, helping them to become more self-sufficient. She uses the ‘learner-centered’ approach for getting people to step outside their comfort zone to advocate and promote positive changes in their community.

This method has proven to be very successful in getting organizations to actively seek community funding to sustain their work as well as develop a sense of commitment and ownership at the local level.

Jearlean’s passion for working with communities grew out of her experiences as a disenfranchised person within her own community. She has extensive experience and expertise in early childhood education, adult literacy, nonprofit board development and advocacy with and for poor and low-income children and their families.

Jearlean served on the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits board in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was chair of the Development Committee. She has written several curriculum guides: ‘Welfare Rights and Change,’ ‘My Community’ and ‘The ABC’S to Advocating for the Rights of Children in the Public School System.’

Jearlean is a 1993 graduate of Leadership Gulf Coast and has received numerous awards including the Laurel Wreath Award, Zeta Phi Beta Outstanding Community Service Award and NAACP Outstanding Community Service Award. She received her CDA certification in 1990.”

Honored by: Janice M. Harper of Nollie Jenkins Family Center

Don Inocencio Peña – Texas Man Brings People Together for Solidarity


Hero’s name: Don Inocencio Peña

Home city: Mission, Texas

The person’s organization: La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE)

Don Inocencio Peña

Why is this person a community hero?

“Don Inocencio Peña is a very charismatic leader. His joyful and playful attitude lifts people’s energy up. Though he is known for joking around, he is equally known for getting down to business.

Don Inocencio is always willing to step up and help his community. He finds solutions where others find frustration. For example, at the time the SB 4 law was passed, many people  responded with fear and anger. In contrast, Don Inocencio decided to volunteer with the LUPE Community Organizing Team to create a structure that allowed the community to hold accountable the politicians that helped pass SB 4. He helped bring many people together to show solidarity to those affected by SB 4.

Don Inocencio participates in local protests and speaks publicly about the injustices that affect our community. These injustices include lack of  drainage, public lights and anti-immigrant laws. Without hesitation, he makes available his truck to transport members to different events.

At the annual LUPE César Chávez March, Don Inocencio goes the extra mile. He also lends his truck to pull the César Chávez March trailer. This allows community members who otherwise would not be able to walk the 2-mile march to participate on board the trailer. Don Inocencio Peña is a César Chávez Hero.”

Honored by: Marco A. Lopez of LUPE

Alberta Ramirez

Alberta Ramirez – A Woman of Faith Who Writes Songs to Inspire Change


Hero’s name: Alberta Ramirez

Home city: Edinburg, Texas

The person’s organization: La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE)

Why is this person a community hero?

“Alberta embodies the spirit of César Chávez. She is humble and committed to working for the common good. Her willingness and readiness to serve others are never deterred by her limited English proficiency.

This spirit has allowed Alberta to help lead her community toward significant triumphs. One such triumph happened in 2018. Hidalgo County agreed to install drainage and build new streets in Alberta’s colonia, Owassa Acres. As with the drainage and street effort, Alberta is already fiercely at work organizing neighbors to get public lighting installed. Without a doubt, an upcoming triumph.

Alberta is a talented songwriter. Recently, she led a project called Sonido del Agua for which she composed four corridos that were professionally recorded. These corridos were written to inspire more communities to organize and create change.

Alberta is a woman of deep faith. She cares about faith development in young people. She offers Catechism classes in her yard to the children of her colonia.

More importantly, Alberta is an exemplary mother. She is a mother of seven children – all of whom she raised on her own following the unfortunate passing of her husband. Her children model their mother’s commitment of service and provide meals to recently arrived asylum seekers.

We value Alberta highly. Alberta has served as a spokesperson and mentor to others since she first became member of the Unión in 1992. We can always count on Alberta for marches, protests and even for the building of a community garden.”

Honored by: Marco A. Lopez and Marta Sanchez of LUPE

Jenny Ramirez – Her Goals: Better Pay and Ownership for Farmworkers


Hero’s name: Jenny Ramirez

Home city: Bakersfield, California

The person’s organization: California Harvesters, Inc.

Why is this person a community hero?

“With over 15 years of experience in human resources in California agriculture, Jenny is the director of human resources and interim CEO of California Harvesters, Inc. (CHI) — a first-of-its-kind farm labor contracting company managed directly by workers in California’s Central Valley. CHI is designed to create high-quality farm labor jobs connected to an ecosystem of support based on respect, dignity and opportunity for workers, growers and the broader community.

Jenny Ramirez

Over the years, Jenny became intrigued by the concept of disrupting the perceived dysfunctional farm labor contracting model that had a reputation for lacking transparency and disempowering workers. She grew passionate about using her training and an HR framework that was not utilized in agriculture to improve working conditions for farmworkers. She also wanted to help them have more voice and ownership, to affirm that their work matters, to provide valuable training and leadership opportunities and to help foster better relationships between workers and growers.

She also relished the opportunity to provide support for workers to become active participants in a company that would benefit them and local communities. Since 2018, Jenny has been setting policies and procedures and building out CHI, which she has called ‘a project of love.’ Just a year into its launch, 900 farmworkers now have access to benefits, increased wages and workplace safety training. Having spent the last year listening to workers and gathering data to better understand their needs, Jenny says one of her objectives this year is to bridge the gap with the need for continuous stable work, as many workers expressed this as a top priority.

She is also excited to build out and vet programs to subsidize the significant child care costs that workers currently face and connect them to a support system grounded in their real needs.”

Honored by: Dr. Carmen Rojas of The Workers Lab and Marguerite Casey Foundation Board of Directors

FILE - In this Dec. 21, 2018 file photo, migrants embrace after receiving one of the fifty turns for an interview to request U.S. asylum, alongside the El Chaparral pedestrian border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico. The Mexican government said Friday, Jan. 25, 2019 that the United States plans to return 20 migrants per day to Mexico as they await an answer to their U.S. asylum claims. The spokesman for Mexico's Foreign Relations Department says Mexico doesn't agree with the move, but will accept the migrants at the San Ysidro border crossing, near Tijuana. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File)
Migrants embrace on Dec. 21, 2018 after receiving one of the 50 turns for an interview to request U.S. asylum, alongside the El Chaparral pedestrian border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico. Associated Press photo by Moises Castillo

Central American Refugees – They Leave ‘to Save Their Families’ Lives’


Names of heroes: Refugees from Central America

Home locations: The Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador)

The organizations of the heroes: Nongovernment organizations

Why is this group of people heroes?

“I salute their courage to take the hard decision to leave nation, language, community, family and friends to travel through a Mexico which is presently dangerous for refugees – in an effort to save their families’ lives.

Paraphrasing what many have said, ‘We had an option. We could have agreed to become assassins, thieves, criminals and remained in our homes. That is not who we are.'”

Honored by: Michael Seifert

Vanda Rice – She Founded Group to Support Revitalization of Appalachia


Hero’s name: Vanda Rice

Home city: Manchester, Kentucky

The person’s organization: Stay in Clay

Why is this person a community hero?

“Vanda is a founder of Stay in Clay, a grassroots revitalization group started in Clay County, Kentucky, in 2012. The heart of their work is creating opportunities for talented young people and others that will enable them to call the county home.

Vanda Rice

Stay in Clay and others in the county worked to become a state-designated Trail Town in 2015, through downtown cleanup, building trailheads and creating signage. They organize the Saltworks Appalachian Homecoming each Memorial Day weekend to engage the entire community, featuring historical re-enactments in the county’s Pioneer Village and well-known musicians.

They also started Monkey Dumplins, the county’s story theater group, which engages people from all generations in several community productions that explore history and culture each year. Neighboring communities also ask the group to perform and teach them about story theater.

‘There is a positive feel in the Clay County air that I’ve never felt before. Our people are beginning to realize that coal mining jobs will probably not return, but they also now see that we have natural resources that people in other parts of the country might like to experience,’ Vanda said of her community.

Vanda is also a contributor to a project called Harmony in the Hills where a group of 34 people from the ages of 12 to 24 run a community play to teach teens and young adults how to diffuse conflict. It is funded by a grant from the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program.

With her passion for organizing, Vanda is essential to this work and is a community hero striving to create a more just and equitable society.”

Honored by: Ariel Fugate of MACED (Mountain Association for Community Economic Development)

Monica Ruiz – ‘Created a Welcoming Space in Pittsburgh for Latinos’


Hero’s name: Monica Ruiz

Home city: Pittsburgh

The person’s organization: Casa San Jose

Why is this person a community hero?

“Monica is the executive director of Casa San Jose, a resource center for Latin American immigrant families in southwestern Pennsylvania. Monica is a tireless champion of immigrant families facing tremendous challenges in this era of rampant hate and persecution. Her organization does everything from assisting with housing, job placement and ESL classes to running a rapid response network to help families impacted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests and detentions.”

Monica Ruiz

Honored by: Guillermo Perez of the United Steelworkers

Why is this person a community hero?

“Monica Ruiz has created a welcoming space in Pittsburgh for Latinos of all ages to come and create whatever it is they want. For DREAMers, they needed a space to meet with pro-bono lawyers to help them fill out their DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) applications. For Latino youth, they wanted a space they could hang out and create art and mostly get to know one another.

She made that possible by creating a space and offering food for them to hang out and meet. Community members needed a space to hang out and talk about what was happening in the community, and she created a community meeting to talk about this happening in the area. She is always asking the community what their needs are and is willing to adapt to the changing time. Just like now ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is her number one priority. She started a bond and rapid response team to help community members affected by ICE raids.

Everyone in the community knows Casa San Jose and Monica are always open to community leadership ideas. Empowerment is not just key when it comes to Monica. She pushes community members to lead meetings and events.”

Honored by: Jeimy Ibarra

Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center, Rosa Sanluis, domestic workers, caregivers, nannies, South Texas, Rio Grande Valley, social justice
Rosa Sanluis

Rosa Sanluis – She ‘Motivates Others to Believe in Themselves’


Hero’s name: Rosa Sanluis

Home region: Rio Grande Valley, Texas

The person’s organization: Fuerza del Valle Workers Center (an affiliate of National Domestic Workers Alliance)

Why is this person a community hero?

“Rosa Sanluis migrated to the United States from Mexico 30 years ago and lives in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Since she arrived in this country, Rosa has worked as a domestic worker for over 20 years until 2016, and many times, she has stayed with her employers because she had nowhere else to live.

Rosa Sanluis

Currently, Rosa is an organizer with Fuerza del Valle, a community organization that advocates for the rights of domestic workers and other working families in the Rio Grande Valley. Rosa is working with other leaders to build a vibrant domestic-worker movement in their area, and their goal is to gain dignity for all domestic workers.

Rosa led the first ever in-depth survey of domestic workers in the Rio Grande Valley, uncovering the reality of thousands of workers who are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation at the border and helped us to produce the report Living in the Shadows, domestic workers at the US/Mexico border.

Rosa’s leadership motivates others to believe in themselves, especially as domestic workers to lift up their dignity and power. She organizes at the border where members’ safety is constantly at risk, given the attacks on immigrant communities. That means meeting in person is often not possible. She must organize within the reality of rapid response to support her community.

Rosa has also been instrumental as a leader and spokesperson for our social impact campaign with the film, ‘Roma.’ No matter what Rosa is holding, she speaks with so much grace and vision and is filled with much gratitude. Rosa is an incredible leader in the domestic workers and immigrant rights movements. She is a community hero for all of us.”

Honored by: Karina Muñiz-Pagán of National Domestic Workers Alliance

Ana Maria Santiago – A Birmingham Woman Champions Human Rights


Hero’s name: Ana Maria Santiago

Home city: Birmingham, Alabama

The person’s organization: YWCA Central Alabama

Why is this person a community hero?

“Ana Maria Santiago is YWCA Central Alabama’s hero. Ana Maria is in her 13th year of volunteering for Anytown Alabama, a social justice program of the YWCA. Anytown Alabama is an annual, weeklong residential leadership institute serving 65 to 80 high school delegates that are diverse in ethnicity, immigration status, socioeconomic status, religion, gender identity and sexual orientation. They come from 35 area schools.

Anamaria Santiago

Immediately following college, Ana Maria sought out Anytown Alabama as a vital part of her mission to give back – first, as a residential adviser, then as an adviser, and for the past seven years, as a co-director. As a co-director, she volunteers her time and expertise year-round, building curriculum, recruiting both staff and delegates, leading a 40-hour staff training and leading the actual hands-on institute.

The result of her efforts is that delegates learn about systemic problems that divide people and make it more difficult for targeted groups of people to achieve health and wealth, and they learn leadership skills. Anytown delegates learn how to have a positive impact on a school’s culture as they discourage intolerance and bullying and serve as allies for marginalized students.

Ana Maria is a champion of education and human rights through her volunteer work with YouthServe, the Magic City Acceptance Center, Mano Juntos, Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, the National Conference for Community and Justice, Peace Birmingham, The Community Affairs Committee and the Blackburn Institute, among other entities.

Ana Maria, who also is a lecturer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, challenges her English 101 and 102 students to engage in community discussions outside the classroom and their comfort zones. She is an adviser to the Spanish and Latino Student Association (SALSA) and a member of the Community Affairs Committee Young Partners, both of which have led community events supporting minority issues under her leadership.”

Honored by: Holly Jaap Hilton of YWCA Central Alabama

Mayra Sarabia

Mayra Sarabia – Inspiring Social Change in Chicago and Beyond


Hero’s name: Mayra Sarabia

Home city: Chicago

The person’s organization: Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP)

Why is this person a community hero?

“For some people, every day is just another day, but for Mayra Sarabia, every day is beautiful. She tells us, ‘Life is beautiful, I’m alive, and I can do a lot of things. I’m blessed to be able to open my eyes.’ Mayra has been a leader and resident in our community on the Southwest side of Chicago for a very long time and has been a SWOP leader for the past 12 years. As a member of the strategy team at SWOP and a parent mentor trainer and organizer, Mayra understands people and campaigns for the very basic human rights that we should all possess – but yet – do not have.

Life is beautiful, I’m alive, and I can do a lot of things. I’m blessed to be able to open my eyes.

She first got involved with SWOP when her children were attending Eberhart Elementary School. Mayra became more engaged in her children’s lives and their school by serving as a parent mentor. Mayra was later given the opportunity to be the parent mentor coordinator at Eberhart. Over the years, she has participated in different campaigns, like TVDL (Temporary Valid Driver’s License) and numerous immigration actions.

Outside of SWOP, Mayra has previously completed a 40-hour training to be aware of and reduce domestic violence. It is her personal goal to advocate for the empowerment of women everywhere.

Yet, years of serving as a leader has not changed who Mayra is or her humility. What she loves most about being at SWOP, as an organizer, is the chance to connect daily with other amazing and unique people.”

Honored by: Chris Brown

Ashley Shelton – She Builds Connections in the South and Nationwide


Hero’s name: Ashley Shelton

Home city: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The person’s organization: Power Coalition for Equity and Justice

Ashley Shelton

Why is this person a community hero?

“Ashley is the executive director of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice.  She works hard to support various grassroots organizations. She provides connections to funders we might not otherwise have access to, which increases our funding to support our impacted communities.

As well, she helps train our members and provide technical support to get out the vote (GOTV) efforts, work that has led to more than 740,000 voter contact attempts across Louisiana. Under her guidance, the Power Coalition just launched a new initiative, ‘SheLeads,’ which seeks to help many impacted individuals have access to technical and funding support to implement programs that the individual has begun and are near and dear to them. This will have a huge impact in their communities.”

Honored by: Gina Womack of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC)

Pablo Tapia – Minn. Leader Relies on Faith and Values to Pursue Equity


Hero’s name: Pablo Tapia

Home region: Minneapolis and St. Paul (Minnesota)

Pablo Tapia

The person’s organizations: Gamaliel and Asamblea de Derechos Civiles

Why is this person a community hero? 

“Pablo Tapia is the co-founder of Asamblea de Derechos Civiles (ADDC), the Gamaliel affiliate in Minnesota comprised largely of immigrant families. Since 2006, Pablo has led ADDC to build local and statewide immigrant justice campaigns around a wide range of issues, including: driver cards, housing, voter rights and engagement and fair labor practices. At the national level, Pablo chairs Gamaliel’s Civil Rights for Immigrants (CRI) campaign, which he has named ‘A Dream for All.’

He has been instrumental in organizing trainings, actions and ‘A Dream for All’ bus tours across key states and to Washington, D.C. at critical moments in the fight for federal immigration reform.

Juan Soto, who staffs Gamaliel’s CRI campaign, says this of Pablo: ‘Pablo embodies the spirit of what it means to be a true leader of community. As this country struggles with what it means to love your neighbor, Pablo is a shining example of a person putting his faith and values in the public arena. Pablo is a fighter for equity and equality for all.’”

Honored by: Rev. Cynthia Owen Jarrold of Gamaliel

A mural of César Chávez is seen in San Diego. Photo by Mike Kane for Marguerite Casey Foundation

TUSA – Orange County Group Defends Tenants’ Rights, Seeks Solutions 


Names of heroes: Tenants United Santa Ana (TUSA) community leaders

Home city: Santa Ana, California

The organization of the heroes: TUSA

Why is this group of people heroes?

“Orange County residents have been facing a housing crisis over the last few years that is making homes more and more unaffordable, especially for working families who rent.  This problem is magnified in Santa Ana, which is among the top 10 densest cities in the country and predominantly immigrant Latinx.


Skyrocketing rents have become the norm, as landlords seek to raise their profits, which pushes long-time residents out of their communities and onto the streets. In 2018, a group of residents that included tenants and homeowners partnered with local community-based organizations to form Tenants United Santa Ana (TUSA).

The coalition set out to elevate the voice and defend the rights of tenants in Santa Ana by leading a campaign to get rent control in Santa Ana as a way to stabilize the cost of housing.

Upon the local City Council refusing to adopt an ordinance, TUSA set out to put it on the ballot for voters to decide. In a span of six months, TUSA collected over 9,000 signatures from registered voters and supported tenants facing evictions through education, direct service and legal support.

This campaign was fueled by the energy, sweat and commitment of community residents – from youth to college students, to single mothers, to seniors – most of them tenants, and all volunteers who at times faced threats from landlords for participating. Although not enough signatures were collected to qualify for the ballot, the group made a lot of noise – enough to raise awareness and build power for tenants in Santa Ana.

TUSA represents the power of people mobilizing for solutions when their local representatives and systems fail them. The group continues to push forward with an eye to grow and win in 2020!”

Honored by: Nancy Mejia of Latino Health Access

Dexter Trujillo – ‘Unofficial Mayor’ of N.M. Town Takes Care of Neighbors


Hero’s name: Dexter Trujillo

Home city: Abiquiu, New Mexico

The person’s organization: Pueblo de Abiquiu Library and Cultural Center

Why is this person a community hero?

The Rio Grande Sun, a local newspaper, named Mr. Trujillo, the ‘Unofficial Mayor’ of Abiquiu, New Mexico.The community, which started in the 1730s, now has about 230 residents, and the region is home to many Native American tribes.

In Abiquiu, Trujillo is known for taking time to visit residents to ensure that they are well. He also, according to the Sun, takes residents to medical appointments and does whatever he can to offer assistance. ‘This land is sacred,’ he told the newspaper and referring to his family’s property for generations.

Honored by: Dr. Ana Malinalli X Gutierrez Sisneros

Connie Walton-Lewis – She Offers Support to Formerly Incarcerated in La.


Hero’s name: Connie Walton-Lewis

Connie Walton-Lewis

Home city: Lake Charles, Louisiana

The person’s organization: New Steps ReEntry

Why is this person a community hero?

“Connie is a member of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) and developed her leadership skills to begin her own organization, New Steps ReEntry.

She has been working with men who are formerly incarcerated to help them gain skills after their incarceration. Connie also works with young Black men and offers a ‘Boys to Men’ spotlight series to encourage young men on their journey to adulthood. She is also supporting girls who have been impacted by domestic violence.”

Honored by: Gina Womack of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC)

Maxica Williams – Homeless Advocate Knows ‘There Is Power in Numbers’


Hero’s name: Maxica Williams

Home city: Chicago

The person’s organization: Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH)

Why is this person a community hero?

“As a cancer survivor who has experienced homelessness, Maxica Williams is using her past to fight for a more equitable future for her community.

Maxica Williams

She was inspired to fight for change after meeting an organizer from Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) while living at a shelter with her four children in 2016. ‘I was intrigued to learn that elected officials are supposed to work for the people,’ Maxica said. ‘And that they could be held accountable.’

Six months later and cancer-free, Maxica called up CCH and immediately got to work. She marched with the Fight for $15 campaign. She served on focus groups. She registered to vote. And after years of struggle and advocacy, she secured permanent housing for her family in 2017.

In 2018, Maxica spoke with legislators and the press about the difficulties of being homeless, jobless and seriously ill, with only a modest TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) grant for support. By sharing her story, Maxica helped sway legislators to increase TANF grant levels across Illinois for the first time in a decade, providing critical support to the state’s poorest families.

Today, Maxica continues to fight for her community and a better world for her children. She serves as a core group leader on CCH’s Bring Chicago Home campaign and is a member of CCH’s Speakers Bureau. She recently joined CCH’s board of directors, inspired to add her voice and perspective through a new lens.

‘There is power in numbers,’ Maxica says. ‘Together, ending homelessness is within our grasp.’”

Honored by: Erin Sindewald of Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

Hilda Villegas – She and Families Are Advocating for Health of Their Kids


Hero’s name: Hilda Villegas

Hilda Villegas

Home city: El Paso, Texas

The person’s organization: Familias Unidas del Chamizal

Why is this person a community hero? 

“Hilda Villegas is president of Familias Unidas del Chamizal. She has been instrumental in advocating for her community on various issues. The organization recently came back from Austin, Texas to advocate for the actions taken by EPISD (El Paso Independent School District) in closing a neighborhood school, Beall Elementary.

Parents are concerned this will put their children in a school that could place their health at risk. She is a strong and dedicated community leader representing the most vulnerable of her community.”

Familias Unidas del Chamizal

Honored by: Maria Gordon

Names of heroes: Familias Unidas del Chamzial community leaders

Why is this group of people heroes?

“Familias Unidas del Chamizal is a grassroots-organizing group of concerned parents and families in the one of the lowest-income neighborhoods in the U.S. They’re concerned that the school district is trying to shut down a school and put their children at risk by sending them to a campus where researchers found lead levels posing a ‘moderate to high risk’ in 2016.”

Honored by: Cemelli de Aztlan of El Paso Equal Voice Network


Marguerite Casey Foundation is a national independent philanthropy that is nurturing a movement of low-income families to strengthen their voice and mobilize their communities for a more just and equitable society. The Foundation supports the movement building efforts of numerous community organizations in the West, Southwest Midwest and South. It has a long-term commitment to small and large grantee organizations. Text for the César Chávez Community Heroes was edited for clarity. This content has been updated to include additional photographs.

Meet the César Chávez Community Heroes of 2019