We all have super powers and among Gloria’s many is the gift of listening – from clients to colleagues to random people on the subway, everyone tells Gloria their stories. Another is music. In middle school Gloria was asked by a teacher to join the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The opportunity would lead to a visit to Germany to compete in an international event (where they won second place) and a collaboration with Philip Glass which led to a Grammy win. Her love of music also led her to LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts. So it was a natural conclusion that she made when entering college to become a music therapist, it seemed to combine all her loves. But while studying at SUNY New Paltz she had a change of plans and decided to pursue a major in Black Studies.
After graduation, armed with a degree and desire to help young people, she spent three years working at an after school program for middle school students. Next she joined AmeriCorps where she had the opportunity to work with Public Allies. During this time she worked at Project Renewal with homeless adults with prior court involvement. That was followed by a year working at City-As-School where she was a college and career counselor and co-taught a class.It was at City-As-School that she decided to eventually pursue a degree in social work at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. The next stroke of luck was coming to Esperanza where she immediately clicked with Executive Director Jenny Kronenfeld and was first hired to work in intake. There she learned more about the criminal justice system, honed her public speaking skills and made countless connections within the courts. Now Gloria is a Youth and Family Field Counselor and truly grateful for the opportunity to work with Esperanza families, “it is a great privilege to be accepted and welcomed into a familys home. We are not there to fix problems, we are there to help families strengthen what they already have.”
The Esperanza blog had a chance to sit down with Gloria and ask a few questions, here are her answers:
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A teacher. I am the daughter of parents who came from Colombia to New York City and the first in my family to be born in the US. I entered PreK as an ESL student and I always loved school and found it to be a welcoming place where we were accepted and nurtured.
What brought you to Esperanza?
A deep desire to help people and to work with young people involved in the criminal justice system.
Most rewarding thing about working at Esperanza?
Giving the Esperanza program to families – many of our families are involved in other systems and they lose hope when they don’t get the attention, help and love that they need. At Esperanza we give them that. We are able to offer the opportunity to avoid jail and think about the future. Counseling is a very powerful tool, I wish it was offered to everyone and not just those who are court-involved. It is also very rewarding to work with the whole Esperanza team.
The fact that this organization even exists – that we have so many kids in the system. Yet I make a living off the system so I question whether I am part of the problem. I also feel frustrated that I can’t do more – I want to help every family with all their issues.
What book do you think everyone should read?
When I was 9, I first read Harry Potter and I think everyone should. It made me love reading, it was the first time I immersed myself in a book and became a part of another reality. And, for anyone interested in the criminal justice field, The New Jim Crow is a must read.
What music are you listening to these days?
I’ve been listening to a lot of R&B as well as Frank Ocean’s new album Blonde, in particular I love the song Godspeed which has a lot of Gospel sounds in it, which is something I’ve always loved. I also love musicals – The Color Purple is one of my favorites. And old school Salsa and Bachata.
What is your idea of happiness?
Making my family proud and being able to help improve their lives in the future. And more generally, young people laughing, being carefree and with parents that can provide them with a safe home, food security and a good education. To love and be loved.
What is your idea of misery?
What’s going on in this country right now – seeing groups of people being victimized and oppressed and watching where this country is headed. Families not being able to survive, not having food, clothes… to live in a country where homelessness, poverty and mass incarceration are allowed.
If you could have any job other than this one, what would it be?
Event/party planning – I love helping people and it would be fun to help people in the happy moments in life!
Finish this sentence In my life I want to…
Really be a part of the change that is needed. To help create a world where everyone can feel safe and live without oppression. I want to know that I helped young people in this country and the world so they don’t have to struggle.