Esperanza Women Series: Gabriella Paez

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This Women’s History Month, Esperanza recognizes three women who are transforming our Hunting Park community. We asked Gabriella Paez about her role at Esperanza Housing and Economic Development (EHED):

What is your role at Esperanza?

As the Education and Community Development Coordinator, my role is to help revitalize the Hunting Park community by bridging the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education gap and organizing Hunting Park residents and stakeholders to make an impact in their community. In my role, I design, manage, and host programs, grants and events to make the community better. I manage both the Hunting Park Community Collaborative and the Hunting Park Community Science Network, both composed of local residents and organizations working together to implement the Hunting Park Strategic Plan. So in summary, my role is to unify people from all sectors with the sole purpose of lifting the community and igniting positive change.  

How does your work contribute to transformation in the lives of students, in the Hunting Park neighborhood, etc.?

My work directly impacts the lives of thousands of people in the community every year. Regarding science education, I get to bring wonderful science events and programs to the neighborhood that inspire and excite hundreds of students to pursue science careers. One of these events is the Star Parties we host a couple of times per year. At this event, many people are able to observe planets and stars through telescopes, some for the first time in their lives!

In terms of community development, I get to work with hundreds of residents in projects that improve the lives of thousands in the neighborhood.

This includes beautifying blocks, organizing residents to make their blocks safer through Town Watch, and connecting residents to City agencies and services. In my capacity, I also get to provide the resources to improve the area through street and yard tree plantings, making the community cleaner, greener, healthier and safer.

Who are women you admire, and why?

In history, I have always admired the Mirabal sisters. These sisters are known as heroes in the Dominican Republic for rising against the bloody dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. As brave women, they were able to do what no men could do before them, effectively organizing against the Trujillo regime. To give everyone some context, Trujillo is known as one of the bloodiest dictators of Latin America. During his 30 year regime, he maintained power through a system of fear that included killing whoever was against him, kidnaping young women and teenagers to be with him and requiring, by law, for every Dominican household to hang a photo of him next to Jesus’ image (which many families had at the time). With this, he effectively sent the message of ‘I am a god’ to every household in the era. Although three of the Mirabal sisters ended up dead by the hands of Trujillo, their fight ignited the fall of Trujillo’s era, which ended with his assassination a year later.

The woman I admire the most in present time is my mom. If I had a word to describe her I would say that she is literally bulletproof. My mom has been through every challenge imaginable as a woman and has been able to overcome all of them and still be a strong woman of faith. She was not only able to complete her medical career while I was still a toddler, but she was also able to survive emergency surgery over eighteen years ago to remove a brain tumor that had been growing in her brain for a long time.

When doctors said she was going to lose her ability to walk and talk, she made a full recovery finding strength in her desire to raise her four children.

She fought and held on to life not because of her but because of us. It was also because of us that she gave up her medical career in the Dominican Republic to emigrate to the US and open the opportunity for me and my siblings to dream without limits and get the best education possible. She gave up her dream to see us reach higher things. My mother is an example of love, selflessness, tirelessness and dedication. Our journey in the US has not been easy but when I was ready to give up, she was there to lift me up, when I was too tired to fight, she was there with her boxing gloves and because of her I am here today. Without her example, love, and support I would have not been able to attend and graduate college or achieve the things I’ve been able to achieve.