ALMAS inaugural panel: Somos (we are) Naperville

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On Tuesday, October 10th, Alliance of Latinos Motivating Action in the Suburbs (ALMAS) held its first event at the DuPage Children’s Museum. ALMAS, a new nonprofit in Naperville, invited esteemed panelists to engage in an informative and inspirational conversation honoring Hispanic Heritage Month. Panelists shared data, inspiring stories, and personal anecdotes to relate to the topic: Somos (we are) Naperville, growing diverse leadership. Prior to the event starting, Elizette Hernandez sang traditional festive music as the audience entered. To begin the presentation, Dr. Teresa Córdova, Director of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois Chicago, shared data that illuminated the impact and importance of the Latino community in the Chicagoland suburbs. 

ALMAS panelists inspire action

The panelists shared experiences that led them to become leaders in their communities, the group included:

Dagmara Avelar

Elected in 2020, Dagmara Avelar is the State Representative for the 85th House District. She is a dedicated individual who advocates for Latino families, focusing on eliminating barriers for low-income and limited English proficient residents. 

Jacqueline Camacho-Ruiz

Jacqueline is an author, motivational speaker, entrepreneur, and advocate for lifting Latino voices. A recent graduate of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, she is involved in her community as a member of The Fig Factor Foundation, the College of DuPage Alumni Executive Board, LovePurse, and the World Leaders Forum.

Simitrio Cruz

Simitrio Cruz owns Naperville’s beloved Nature’s Best Cafe in the Brookdale community. He provides fresh and healthy meals inspired by his children’s gluten-free diet. He takes pride in serving his community, promoting artists, and hosting local musicians. 

Dr. Maribel Guerrero

Dr. Guerrero is the Dual Language Coordinator at Naperville District 203 and Adjunct Professor at Roosevelt University, University of St. Francis, and Judson University, where she teaches graduate-level bilingual pedagogy. 

The panelists answered questions pitched by Samantha Ante, Outreach Coordinator at Joliet Latino Economic Development Association. Some topics included what inspired each panelist concerning their heritage and background, what advice they give others wanting to enact positive change, and why inclusion and equity are important in our community. After the panel discussion, community respondents spoke of their commitment to diversity and inclusion and how they currently implement that in their respective communities. Respondents included Laura Navarro, ALMAS Vice-President and Founder, Dr. Rakeda A. Leaks, Executive Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging at Naperville 203, and Dr. Nader Najjar, IPSD 204 Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Innovation.

How is ALMAS creating community?

Dr. Lili Burciaga, founder and president of ALMAS, thanked the participants and reflected on the evening’s significance, stating, “This truly  is a historic moment. A moment where we have come together to not only value diverse experiences, but to also hopefully spark dialogue”.  The mission of ALMAS is to create a genuine community for Latinos in Naperville and surrounding suburbs to preserve and celebrate Latino cultures and empower Latino leaders. The Spanish word ALMAS, which translates to “souls,” is a fitting name for the organization as it aims to keep uplifting the voices and cultures of the Latino community through outreach, cultural celebrations, and informative meetings.

Check out more community events in the Naperville area.