This is the second of a five-part series. Part 1 is available here.
Joanna Cervantes took the helm as director of Sunshine Place in Sun Prairie in February of last year. She started her career as a police officer to serve the community, but, as she told the Sun Prairie Star, “When you’re a police officer, you see most people at their lowest points; when you’re arresting them you’re taking most of their rights away, and I said, I have to do something different about that. I have to get them before that happens.” Today she oversees a food pantry that serves 2,000 families in and around Sun Prairie. Sunshine Place also offers programs to provide school supplies, clothing and legal services for families in need. And earlier this summer when a gas explosion killed a firefighter and leveled several buildings in downtown Sun Prairie, Joanna stepped up and led the efforts to collect donations and provide relief for the dozens of families that were suddenly homeless. Joanna really walks the walk when it comes to serving the community!
Sergio González recently started a new job at Marquette University in Milwaukee as Assistant Professor of Latinx Studies. He has been a strong voice in the Latino community for years fighting for the immigrant population especially. He recently completed his doctoral degree at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His book “Mexicans in Wisconsin,” is one of perseverance and struggle, family and faith, stretched across more than 130 years.
A longtime board member for Worker Justice Wisconsin, González is the 2017 winner of the Ilda Conteris Thomas Award, presented in the name of Ilda Conteris Thomas, Centro’s first-ever executive director. The award honors an individual whose efforts ensure a strong Latino voice in the community.
Pedro Albiter is the founder and president of Latinos United for College Education Scholarships (LUCES), a nonprofit organization in Madison that works to ensure bright futures for young Latinos in Wisconsin by providing mentoring and several merit and need-based scholarships. Albiter has worked as an employment and training specialist for the State of Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development since 2001. In 2012, Albiter was recognized as Man of the Year by the UMOS organization for helping the Latino community.
Ricardo Jara is chief of staff for the Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent, a new position that he moved into just last month. The East LA native joined the school district last fall as Special Assistant to the Superintendent for Equity and Inclusion. He joined the school district in 2017 while working on his PhD at Harvard. He focuses especially on “opportunity youth” — those transitioning back to school from juvenile detention facilities or returning to school after dropping out. It’s an especially important and influential position, especially as the district continues to struggle with disparities in academic success as well as discipline.
Maria Watts has served Milwaukee’s Latino and broader community for the past 24 years. Her career includes 19 years with the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) where she currently serves as a Senior Business and Community Engagement Officer. For 19 years Maria has assisted hundreds of public and private entities by leveraging WHEDA’s knowledge and resources. Before coming to WHEDA, she worked as a Housing Coordinator for La Casa De Esperanza and as an Assistant Vice President for Tri-City National Bank. Over the past two decades Maria has served on numerous boards of directors and is currently the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for UMOS. Watts has worked hard on the Transform Milwaukee initiative which is a comprehensive, public-private initiative that leverages Milwaukee’s workforce, industrial strengths and transportation assets to expand community investments, increase business development, boost job creation and strengthen neighborhoods.
Nadya E. Perez-Reyes is a Milwaukee native of Puerto Rican descent and has worked as an assistant state public defender in Milwaukee as well as an elections law specialist for Wisconsin. She has been a board member for the City of Milwaukee Election Commission-Bilingual Advisory Task Force and was recently recognized in the Wisconsin Law Journal as a 2017 up-and-coming lawyer. Nadya is known for litigating complex cases, including proceedings involving termination of parental rights. She often represents the agency’s most vulnerable clients.
Part 3 coming tomorrow!