By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
VINELAND – Faith, family and fitness is what drives Carmen D. Arocho-Gonzalez passions as a grandmother and one of the recognizable faces in South Jersey’s Latino community as a mainstay with the Puerto Rican Action Committee, PRAC of Southern New Jersey.
Raised in Puerto Rico, Arocho-Gonzalez is the program manager for home energy assistant at the PRAC in Woodbine. PRAC has been recognized as a “vital link” for the Hispanic communities of Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem counties.
There, she often goes beyond to assist those at the margins in need of help the most in some of their most critical times. PRAC identifies and addresses the needs of low to moderate income community members by developing strategies and programs that facilitate social, economic growth, self-sustainability along with promoting culture awareness and events.
“My experience working for PathStone led me to PRAC of Southern NJ,” Arocho-Gonzalez told Front Runner New Jersey/La Prensa. “In 2005, I was hired as a youth/adult employment program coordinator providing services to PRAC clients in Salem County. In 2010, I became the home energy assistance program supervisor providing services to mostly Hispanic individuals/families in Salem County.
PRAC and Reaching Out
“In 2013, PRAC became the low-income home energy assistance leading agency in Cape May County, and I assumed the responsibility of program/office manager of the PRAC office in Woodbine, Cape May County, providing services to individuals/families of CMC,” she added.
Through PRAC, Arocho-Gonzalez said she has been able to collaborate with other community service providers, helping families with utility bills, referrals to other programs available to assist with food, rental assistance, employment search, etc.
“When families come to us, we learn of their challenges and helping them, gives me great satisfaction,” she said.
Away from the office, Arocho-Gonzales said she is a Divine Mercy Parish in Vineland and is a “dedicated wife, mom, and grandmother.”
“At age 50, I work out at least five times a week,” she said. “I do Zumba, Strong by Zumba, HIIT, Boot Camp, Cardio Boxing, and bike riding which I highly enjoy with my daughter. Staying active keeps me healthy and strong, and helps me take better care of my family and alert to handle challenges at work.”
Up for the Challenge
Arocho-Gonzalez is always up for challenges. In 2017, she returned to college after 23 years, enrolling at Rowan University and complete a bachelor’s degree in general studies in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
“I have always taken education seriously and have encouraged youth, my children, and young Latinos I had the opportunity to work with to obtain a college education or complete a special trade training that would increase their opportunities in the job market,” Arocho-Gonzalez said.
She was already a young mother with two sons when she graduated from Cumberland County College, now Rowan College of South Jersey, in 1992 with an associate degree in Liberal Arts Business Administration.
“Completing both high school and college was a challenge,” Arocho-Gonzalez said. “I had a language barrier and I was extremely busy being a wife, mother of two, part-time time student, and part-time employee but I was determined to continue my education.
“From CCC, I transferred to Rowan University, formerly Glassboro State College. I attended Rowan part-time from 1992-1995. I was a junior when I accepted a fulltime position at Showboat Hotel Casino and withdraw from school. I worked for Showboat for five years in the areas of human resources and finance,” she said.
Arocho-Gonzalez said if she could turn back the hands of time, she would not have taken such an extended education break, but added “I’m grateful that I was given opportunities that helped me grow in the social services field, and I was able to help others.”
She said that experience helped her motivate others, which made it worthwhile.
“Today, I know of three students that I worked with through youth programs, two became social workers, and one became an electrician,” Arocho-Gonzalez said. “I remembered sharing part of my story with them, and I know that was motivational to them to continue their journeys.”
In 2000, she took a job with nonprofit human services organization PathStone, formerly Rural Opportunities, Inc., as a youth program coordinator and AmeriCorps program supervisor. There, she helped youth ages 14-21 with career exploration, job search, work experience, and job placement.
Arcoho-Gonzalez had graduated from Vineland High School with honors in 1988, although she was already married, carrying for one child and learning a new area, after spending her elementary and middle school years in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico.
“I come from a family of six, my parents, two sisters, and one brother,” Arocho-Gonzalez said. ” Both of my parents were born in Puerto Rico, but they met in Vineland during the 1960s. I was born in the Bronx, but only spend a few months there. I was married at age 16, and moved to Vineland 1985. In 1986, I had my first son. In 1988, I graduated from Vineland High with honors – No. 29.”
Arocho-Gonzalez said she continues to be inspired by her parents, who pushed her to educate herself but also taught her valuable life skills.
“I learned to be focused, organized, and to multi-task,” Arocho-Gonzalez said. “These are skills hard to teach to our youth in today’s busy world with so much technology and social media.”
Through her personal and professional experiences, Arocho-Gonzalez said she wants to continue helping others in the future and leading them from challenges and accomplishments.
“In five years, I’ll like to see myself in a position that continues to provide services to individuals/families in need, but with increased challenges, accomplishments, compensation, and job security,” she said. “That is what career and personal growth is all about.”
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