This article was featured in RBJ’s Path to Excellence magazine published June 22, 2018.
As I reflect on my life, both personally and professionally, I can instantly recall the women who have played a key role in my development and growth as a professional and as an individual. Their roles span through different periods of my life and each one of them has helped me evolve to become the person that I am today.
The first woman who comes to mind is my grandmother, Josefa “Pepa” Rosario, truly the matriarch of our family. She lived to the age of 105, and even at that age, would continue to wake up at 4 a.m. every day to milk cows on our farm in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. My grandmother had nine children and always demonstrated strength and confidence. She was also extremely caring, and it is from her that I learned the importance of compassion and empathy. From my days growing up with her, I vividly remember a child whose mother had passed away and did not have his father in his life. “Pepa” took this child in as her own and he soon became a part of our family. She cared for him in the same way that she did for the rest of us and even included him in her will, along with her biological children.
Latina women are traditionally known for having a strong personality and being devout Christians. My mother taught me about that strength and faith, which she had demonstrated her entire life, even more so when she was dying of cancer. She never complained about her circumstances or any discomfort.
My mother also taught me about the importance of community and serving others. I immensely admired her compassion. One example of that compassion had to do with meals. She would always cook more than what was needed at home because she wanted to make sure we could provide food to others who did not have enough, if any, at all. This is what she did day in and day out throughout her life. My mother taught me to have pride in myself. Her positive spirit, daily sacrifices and love for her children continue to inspire me today.
The third woman on my list is Margarita Ossorio. When I came to Rochester from Puerto Rico and I began to work for the Ibero-American Action League, Margarita was my first supervisor. She was the director of Family Services and I was hired as the director of Foster Care and Adoptions. I admired the way Margarita led our division and highly respected her management style. Margarita was open and honest with her staff and always kept an “open door” policy. Margarita made sure to create a positive and friendly work environment that was tremendously helpful in a division where the family circumstances of our clients could take an emotional toll on us. One of the most important lessons I learned from Margarita was how to avoid internalizing the challenges faced by the families we served.
Another woman that I admire and who has influenced my life greatly is Bonnie DeVinney, the former executive director of the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency. I met Bonnie through the Mosaic Partnerships program, launched by former Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson. The program paired individuals from different backgrounds to educate and improve race relations. I was paired with Bonnie shortly after becoming CEO of Ibero. Bonnie was the first person I met, and we became very close. Her experience as an executive director allowed her to serve as my mentor. I admired her trustworthiness and knew that I could talk to her about any topic or concern. Bonnie was always there to listen and help me along the way.
Jennifer Leonard, president and CEO of the Rochester Area Community Foundation, is another woman I greatly admire. She is extremely knowledgeable and also served as one of my mentors during my transition as Ibero’s new CEO. Jennifer provided me with guidance in many areas that touched on fundraising, staff development, and overall agency goals. We often met for breakfast, which became a valuable time for me in my new position and a time that I always looked forward to because I knew I would leave with new knowledge. During our breakfast meetings, I would share my challenges and successes. Whenever I shared my challenges, Jennifer would help me devise a plan to address them. Jennifer has been an invaluable resource and friend who I will always be grateful to for her leadership and support.
Hilda Rosario Escher is president and CEO of Ibero-American Action League.