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Diversity is important to Isabel Alvarez Galeano. That’s partly why she helped connect the North Haven Rotary Club to her hometown in Colombia. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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For Isabel Alvarez Galeano, joining the Rotary Club four years ago felt like coming home. This year, she’s helped the Rotary extend its operations far beyond North Haven’s borders.
Though she’s a relative newcomer to the town’s Rotary Club, Isabel says she’s been involved with similar organizations for most of her life. In college, she was a part of Rotaract, a Rotary group for young people, and in high school she joined the Interact Club, which is run by Rotary International for young people.
“I always wanted to be a Rotarian,” Isabel says.
Isabel moved to the U.S. from her hometown of Ocaña, Colombia in 2001, where she participated in these groups. Plus, Isabel has friends and relatives in Ocaña’s Rotary Club so the Rotary has always felt like an important part of her life.
“This has been one of the best decisions of my life,” Isabel says. “I moved to North Haven and I wanted a sense of community.”
After coming to the U.S. with a law degree, Isabel initially worked cleaning houses and at McDonald’s. Eventually, a job cleaning the house of a local judge turned into a temporary position as a legal clerk. Now, she is working in the state judicial branch as a program manager offering diversity and inclusion training to state employees.
“[I teach] not only the power of diversity but to embrace our similarities because we’re more similar than we think,” she says. “The more diverse we are, the better the community.
“I am an immigrant. I’ve been here for 18 years, English is my second language and I speak with an accent, but there’s a lot that is similar to you,” she says.
Isabel says teaching people about the power of diversity is important to her both in her job and in her personal life. As a Rotarian, she has also helped to connect the North Haven club with her Colombian roots.
This year, Isabel was recognized as North Haven’s Rotarian of 2019 for the work she has done connecting her new home with her old home. Using connections with the Rotary Club in Ocaña, Isabel helped North Haven’s group pay for televisions in the pediatric unit of the local hospital.
She was visiting her family while her brother was in the hospital when she noticed the need there.
“I was just going around while he was in surgery and I noticed...they don’t have entertainment,” Isabel says.
So Isabel brought the idea back to North Haven. The club liked the proposal and set about partnering with Kids for Kids to give the hospital televisions.
“It was very good for them to see that they are making a difference not only in the North Haven community but [in Columbia],” Isabel says.
In addition to providing entertainment to sick children, the televisions are used to deliver information about the hospital and instructional videos about breast feeding and other topics.
“This year has been really good in that I was able to be the bridge between my hometown and [North Haven],” Isabel says. “Now it feels like we are sister clubs.”
Though the North Haven Rotary Club has given money internationally before, Isabel says her close relationship with the recipient of this project has made the process more personal for everyone.
“Me being a Rotarian that is from another country with that sister club…it was a more direct process,” she says. “It’s more tangible.”
Plus, Isabel was able to personally supervise the delivery of the televisions so she could make sure the money got where it was meant to go, avoiding complicated bureaucracy.
“I’m not a fan of bureaucracy. I’m a fan of getting things done,” she says.
And it’s not the last work in Colombia Isabel hopes to do with Rotary. She’s also secured funds to give to an organization based in Ocaña that helps to rescue and educate children captured by guerrilla groups.
The rescue group has already secured a building for a computer lab to help teach the kids important skills, but now they need the actual computers to make it all work.
“I thought it was a very nice program because we’re helping children to be better and reach their true potential,” she says.
This work is funded by events the Rotary holds throughout the year. The next major fundraiser is Wine and Roses taking place on Sunday, Sept. 22 from 1. to 5 p.m. at the Forget Me Not flower shop.
“If you want something, it really can be done,” Isabel says. “You make it happen.”
To nominate a Person of the Week, email Nathan Hughart at n.hughart@Zip06.com.
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