Their names may not often make headlines, but their power as catalysts for transformational work is indisputable. Meet six individuals who are crafting innovative solutions to our community’s most pressing social, educational, cultural, and civic needs.
Executive Director, Focus Points Family Resource Center
When Cynthia Gallegos was eight years old, she and her Spanish-speaking grandmother walked into an Albuquerque office to pay a bill. “Why doesn’t she learn English?” the teller asked when Gallegos translated for her grandmother. Gallegos smiled, knowing her grandmother would be angry if she raised her voice. “She doesn’t need to speak English,” little Cynthia responded. “I’m speaking English for her.” But Gallegos was shaken, and as they walked outside, her grandmother said, “You don’t have to defend me. I should learn English.”
“You don’t have to, Grandma,” Gallegos said. “I will speak it for you.”
That was more than 30 years ago, and the encounter indelibly shaped Gallegos’ life. “That’s the experience I don’t want kids to have to feel,” says Gallegos, 40, today. Her own immigrant background and encounters with prejudice and ignorance were influential in driving her to her current position as the executive director of Focus Points Family Resource Center. The organization is a safe haven for a community (the Swansia-Elyria and Five Points neighborhoods) primarily composed of a low-income, historically Spanish-speaking immigrant population, many of whom don’t have access—or don’t know how to access—resources such as education, nutritious food, and daycare. At the almost 10,000-square-foot center, individuals and families can learn English, take basic education classes, work toward a GED, drop the kids off for early-education programs, and get assistance maneuvering bureaucracies—such as health care or welfare—effectively.
There’s a large populace in need of Focus Points’ offerings. According to the 2010 census, 28.7 percent of Denver County residents speak a language other than English at home, and currently more than 1,300 individuals and families participate in the Center’s programs, while more than 150 people are on a waiting list. “Education is that great equalizer,” Gallegos says. “We hear people say, ‘Because I don’t know how to do this, I’m not going to get it done.’ No. Let’s teach you how to do it so you can get it done on your own whenever you need to.”
In 2004, Gallegos started at Focus Points as an administrative assistant; today, she oversees a $1 million budget and a staff of almost 45. “Every opportunity is there for us to increase those abilities for families to make it, not just get by,” Gallegos says. “ ‘Get by’ is just too hard. Maybe I won’t be able to educate all of the kids, but darn it, we’re going to educate as many kids and help as many families as we can.”