Being a young actor in New York City was a dream come true for designer, carpenter, DIY expert and TV personality, Carmen de la Paz. However, finding a way to finance a life in New York was difficult.

“Being a young actor in NYC I wanted to live well and I wanted to save money! So, instead of renting an expensive, pretty and clean apartment in Manhattan, I rented the worst dump, asked the landlord to lower the rent and if I committed to fixing it up, he would pay for the supplies,” De la Paz tells Madison365. Her landlord took the deal and she was off to learning carpentry via her broken down apartment. “I saved a ton and learned a lot. Learned I was hard wired for tools and visual creativity. The rest became the dream I live today,” she says.

De la Paz is set to deliver the keynote address at the annual Latino Chamber of Commerce Gala at the Marriott West on February 25, 2017. Tickets are still available.

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and raised in Wisconsin, De la Paz is an alumna of Syracuse University and has a BFA in Music Theatre. She also studied Broadcast Journalism though the UCLA Certificate program. De la Paz is most recognized for her carpentry and design skills featured on six seasons of HGTV‘s makeover series Hammer Heads. In each episode, she introduces homeowners to power tools, new building materials and creative designs. Her appearance on Hammer Heads opened many doors for her.

De La Paz launched her own television show, Be Handy Con Carmen for UTILISIMA!, a Spanish-language channel, in Fall 2011. With De La Paz as producer and host, the show focuses on home improvement, power tools, design and “do-it-yourself”. Be Handy Con Carmen airs in 18 countries including the U.S., Canada and Mexico and as well as countries in the Caribbean and South America.

”I am the first woman to actually make things with power tools on TV in the 18 Spanish language countries where Be Handy Con Carmen and my other Spanish language shows are seen,” de la Paz says. She says women from different countries write to her and say they have bought a tool even when their husbands did not want them to. Others write to her telling her how their husbands don’t believe their wives own tools and workshops.

On one occasion, de la Paz says she received an email from a daughter thanking her for saving their mother’s life – a severely depressed, suicidal woman who was under medical care.  When she was taken to the doctor in better spirits, the doctor asked what had changed, and she said, “I started watching Carmen De La Paz and she said, ‘working with your hands can help give you a purpose, takes your mind off of other stresses and can be another way of loving yourself.’”

“These messages and many more like them, have instilled a deep sense of responsibility,” de la Paz says. “Via these messages, I feel my mission has gone deeper and more profound than cutting wood, setting tiles or painting a wall. The materials have become to vehicle, the mission is about empowering people to believe they can do and be anything they want.”

Despite having to be back in the snowy weather, De la Paz is excited to be back home in Wisconsin, and is honored to speak at the upcoming gala. “I am honored to be invited to be a part of the Gala! We all dream of growing up and being invited to keynote a big event in your home state. In my heart – it is a big deal,” she says.

Her keynote speech will include her continual message of “only you can say no to you.”