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By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
CAMDEN – Jeanette Alvarez says she now understands why her parents sacrificed so much moving from the Dominican Republic to the United States and for their children and as Camden's newest school board member, she hopes what she does honors them.
Alvarez, an aide to Camden County Commissioners Melinda H. Kane and Al Dyer, won a spot on the Camden City School District Advisory Board in November along with Cameron Hudson and N'Namdee Nelson.
As the county aide, the single mother of three children assists constituents with issues pertaining to veterans. She is also involved in the planning and development of the Camden County Department of Public Works.
She told Front Runner La Prensa she would not be in the position she is today without the foundation laid by her parents.
"My parents are my heroes, my light, my source of inspiration for everything I need to know to navigate this journey we call life," Alvarez said. "They were selfless individuals who instilled within me the core values of faith, family and community. The defining moment in my life came in the 1970s when our family migrated to a predominantly English-speaking neighborhood in New York.
"It was the ultimate sacrifice for my parents to leave their native country. Yet they knew it was necessary to ensure they were in a position to provide us with the best future imaginable. They envisioned America for us as a land of opportunity and endless possibilities."
Alvarez said her family endured challenges, hardships and cultural norms that many Latino families still face today, including language barriers, working multiple jobs to make ends meet and assimilating.
"In the long run, they knew that achieving the dream for my siblings and I would not be easy. They just needed to create a life for us where it was possible," she said.
They would eventually open a corner store in South Camden and purchase their first home while operating their small business. She worked there after school and on summer breaks. Alvarez said she learned a lot about business – and the needs of business owners and their customers – from her time helping her parents at the establishment.
"My mother and father worked tirelessly to make those possibilities come to life," Alvarez said. "They were laser-focused on their purpose and made countless sacrifices for us. Subsequently, I learned about business and developed people skills by learning to engage with the community."
Now as a parent and grandparent, she has found herself passing along many of the lessons she has learned.
"My children are my reason why," Alvarez said. "Raising my three children as a single mother has given me so much joy and has brought me closer to my purpose. They have inspired me to further my education and pursue a life of abundance. Creating a life revolving around balance, organization, and time management definitely helped me as a working mom.
"However, the most important factor has been being rooted and grounded in faith. My faith was one of those core values that played a key role in my upbringing. It is something that will always be a guide in every decision I make in my life."
Alvarez said having a career in government has been a rewarding experience and has used her experience to help her constituency, especially those who are from the Hispanic community.
"I am able to be their advocate, their voice, and assist them with everyday circumstances that impact their ability to achieve a good quality of life," Alvarez said.
"On the county, state and federal levels of government I have been responsible for managing constituent services, serving as a liaison to different agencies, handling correspondence coming in and out of the office, scheduling, planning meetings and events, and working to find solutions to the issues our constituents care about most," she added.
Alvarez said she feels fortunate to have worked alongside "amazing public servants" like Sen. Cory Booker, Assemblyman William F. Moen, and Camden County Sheriff Gilbert "Whip" Wilson.
"There are so many others whom I have had the pleasure of building meaningful, positive relationships with and have truly inspired my growth and development as a leader," she said.
Alvarez said she is comfortable with her position as a role model, adding she believe that "presence matters." She said who younger people see in the world helps them to see themselves.
"There is a kid right now who aspires to be the next Michael Jordan, the next Jennifer Lopez, the next Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama," Alvarez said. "I want to be a representation that Latina women do not have to resist the truth of who they are in order to see their aspirations come to life.
"When other Latinas look at me, I want them to feel inspired. I want them to feel capable, confident, and connected. I want them to know that no matter what the color of their skin is, their age, or their body type they are multifaceted individuals who can be leaders in any industry they aspire to be in.
"I believe in the power of sharing the light we carry within to inspire and uplift others. I want to use my light to touch the lives of young Latinas, so they can see life from a different perspective. We are all called to be a beacon of light and I am humbled to have been chosen to do so," Alvarez continued.
She said her knowledge of her parents traveling to the United States led her to get involved with the organization Backpacks of Dreams and Saint Joseph’s Carpenter Society.
"We would often travel back to the Dominican Republic with suitcases packed with clothing, toiletries, and toys," Alvarez said. "It taught me that our true-life purpose is to use what is given to us to be of service to others.
"Backpacks of Dreams gives people the opportunity to travel abroad to deliver aid and educational resources for our youth. As a board member at Saint Joseph's Carpenter Society, we focus on affordable housing rehabilitation and community development. This includes educating people on homeownership and improvement," she said.
The Rest of the Story
Alvarez touched on number of other subjects in her interview with Front Runner New Jersey.
FRNJ: I understand your parents migrated from the Dominican Republic. What do you take from their experiences?
Jeanette Alvarez: It was not until I was older that I understood the meaning behind my parents' sacrifices. In my eyes, they are the epitome of true trailblazers. We found an opportunity through the perseverance of our hardships. Those opportunities served as a sign of hope for those who did not see it possible. Being able to help others find the stability to take control of their own lives is a truly fulfilling experience. These are the experiences that I am most thankful to my parents for, and why I am so passionate about serving others. The heart they had shown me that the place where change truly begins is from within. Without them, I would not be who I am today.
FRNJ: Alvarez talked about some of the issues that are close to her.
Jeanette Alvarez: All of these topics hit home for me having experienced them all in some aspects of my life.
Immigration: America has always been known as a land of opportunity and is a nation that has been built by immigrants. Many immigrants like my family, left their native country to come here in hopes of achieving a greater quality of life. From my experience, immigrants often go through so much turmoil to gain citizenship and naturalization status. Some families have to wait years to get their papers. My parents, being immigrants, made numerous sacrifices to achieve this dream for me and my siblings. They had to adapt to the way of living in the States which has shaped my way of viewing life, taught me to be appreciative of all we have and inspired me to work diligently to advance and expand rights for all immigrants. Thus, my goal is to ensure every American has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness regardless of immigration status.
Social Security: My mother was able to benefit from Social Security services as she battled with kidney failure. It provided a safety net for her as her health deteriorated. Receiving Social Security helped her focus on the things she valued most - her family and well-being. In addition, it alleviated the worry of having access to quality and affordable healthcare.
Veterans Affairs: My son-in-law and two members of my family have served our Country. Our service men and women make the ultimate sacrifice putting their lives on the line to protect ours, and the freedom and constitutional rights we get to enjoy. Through their sacrifices, my children, grandchild, and future generations will be able to live a safe, blessed, and prosperous life. I will always have deep, profound gratitude and respect for the brave men and women of this Country.
Housing: As a single mother, I have had to experience challenges in providing the best quality of life for my children. There were many difficult decisions I had to make to ensure they had a roof over their heads. Housing stability is a pressing issue that families in our community face. I think that environments are crucial to the quality of life our children and families are able to achieve. It has always been important to me to make sure my children lived in a healthy environment in which they could be themselves and thrive to see their fullest potential. Sometimes it required choosing security and stability, over comfort and convenience.
Education: Being a first-generation college graduate, education has always been an important factor in my upbringing. Education is the one thing that no one can take from you. When my parents were growing up, they did not have the resources to achieve a quality education. It was not something that could be easily obtained in the Dominican Republic. Their lack of education made it more difficult for them to overcome the many obstacles they faced. To see my children, hone these lessons and excel in school makes me extremely proud. It inspires me on how I can continue to use my experiences as a single mother to impact the lives of all children. There is a quote by Confucius that I love. He said, "Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace." Education gives us the tools we need to fulfill our dreams, achieve socioeconomic mobility and stability, and advance our community as a whole. I am enthused as a newly elected member of the Camden City Advisory Board to do what I can to help achieve this mission.
FRNJ: How much juggling do you have to do being a single mother of three and accomplishing the things you have?
Jeanette Alvarez: I love my children and honestly could not have made it this far without them. They have always been there to celebrate my successes and get me through my hardships. They make being a mom worthwhile for me because they do everything that they are supposed to. Seeing my children go from preschool to college has been such a rewarding experience. I am extremely proud and excited to see how their lives unfold.
Whether it was raising my children, attending school and working full time, or being my mother’s caregiver for the final years of her life my colleagues have always been there to lend a helping hand. They have been genuine, inclusive, and committed to my growth by assisting me with any support I need to be successful in the advancement of my career.
FRNJ: Who inspires you today?
Jeanette Alvarez: My children and my granddaughter are my inspiration. As a single mother, I made many sacrifices to give my children the means necessary to live a life of dignity and to provide them with the tools they need to be successful. I am blessed to say that they have exceeded my expectations. They make me extremely proud by their accomplishments, but most importantly, the human beings they have become. Now that my children are much older, I am focused on paving the way for my granddaughter and the up and coming generation. I want to continue to build on all I have learned as a mother and expand on it. I want to create a brighter future for my granddaughter. After becoming a grandmother my perspective on life has changed. My granddaughter has given me a boost of vitality. The best title I hold is the one of mother and now a grandmother.
QUESTION: How can we better help single mothers of color in this country balance life so they can reach their dreams? Answer in the Discussion section below.
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