“When I came to Rochester, I took English classes at Ibero,” she says.
Rosario Escher went on to become the president and CEO of the nonprofit, which employs close to 300 people from Rochester to as far away as Albany.
“I am excited every day about coming to work, just to see the impact that we have in the community” she says.
Ibero is a multifaceted agency that provides a wealth of bilingual services to the communities it serves. Parents, youths, families, senior citizens and those who have developmental disabilities can all turn to the nonprofit for assistance. Though Ibero was founded in 1968 to advocate for Monroe County’s growing Hispanic population, it opens its doors to all.
“The majority of the people we serve live in poverty,” Rosario Escher explains. “We work to help them be self-sufficient.”
Except for two brief periods with other agencies, Rosario Escher has spent all of her working life with Ibero—over 26 years in all. She joined the agency as the coordinator of a bilingual secretarial training program and eventually rose to become vice president of its Developmental Disability division. At the time, there weren’t many services for that population in Rochester—Ibero had only one group home for developmentally disabled adults.
“There were a lot of parents that met with me to see whether I could bring into the city group homes, vocational programs and some resources,” Rosario Escher says.
Rosario Escher grew passionate about the need for such services, and set out to create them at Ibero.
“I started developing the different programs according to the needs of the community,” she explains.
Nowadays, Ibero has 10 group homes and a number of supportive apartments for the developmentally disabled. The nonprofit even offers Fashion Works, a prevocational program. Enrolled adults work in a thrift store of the same name that Ibero owns in Rochester.
“They work in this store to develop their social skills,” Rosario Escher explains. “From there, we find them competitive employment.”
Altogether, Rosario Escher’s efforts have helped make Ibero’s Developmental Disabilities division the largest at the agency.
A trip to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck spurred Rosario Escher to take action on another front. At that time, most on the island had long endured being without power, potable water and other essentials.
“I was so angry, because we have been treated as less than second-class citizens,” she says.
Channeling that anger, Rosario Escher tried to keep Puerto Rico’s plight in the spotlight, and set out to help those who were escaping Maria’s effects.
“All of these Latinos, Puerto Ricans were coming to Rochester,” Rosario Escher says. “They would go through a cultural shock, in addition to weather shock.”
While running Ibero, Rosario Escher is always ready to mentor other women.
“Whether it’s Latinas, African-Americans, Caucasians, I’m always open to pass on whatever I have learned,” she says.
In her spare time—what there is of it—Rosario Escher volunteers for a number of nonprofits, serving on the steering committee of New York State Council on Women and Girls and board of the Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School, to name just two. She was selected as a 2012 Woman of Distinction by state Sen. Joe Robach, R-Greece, and was a 2017 Rochester Business Journal ICON Honoree.
When speaking of her life, Rosario Escher sounds a bit surprised about how far she has come.
“I never thought that one day I would be leading the largest Latino organization outside of New York City.”