By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
LANDISVILLE – Lydia Munoz has made serving the Latino community her life’s work as executive director of the Spanish Community Center Shore AHEC for more than 45 years.
Munoz, a native of Puerto Rico who grew up in New York, has been at the center since 1974 which now has offices in Landisville and Atlantic City. For more than four decades, she has stood up for those in need of services and advocated for everyone who came through the doors of the Spanish Community Center.
Understanding the Struggles and Challenges
“As a clinician, what I enjoy the most is making a difference when I am able to give families from other countries the tools they need so they can live and the proper way of raising children in their new home in America,” Munoz told Front Runner New Jersey/La Prensa.
“I understand the struggles and challenges they face, as often times their children become acculturated to the American ways and often do not share the same values as their parent. Years after working with families, they come to the agency to simply say ‘thank you.’ That means a lot to me,” she said.
Munoz started working with the local migrant population in 1970 and said she quickly discovered because of the language barrier, they needed an advocate to speak for their interests and the services they needed.
“Helping others is something that I love to do every day,” Munoz said. “I am blessed to have had some many young people that started at the Center as Youth Workers, went on to college and obtained their degrees. Some became social workers, nurses, teachers and counselors.”
Father William Collins
Munoz said the late Father William Collins, who advocated for Latinos locally, was the person to approached her expanding her work in the Hispanic community and helped attract funds for the center.
“He hired me and we joined forces to make sure that the Latino community received the proper services,” Munoz said. “I volunteered without pay for two years, and finally was able to obtain funding to serve our community. Kathleen (O’Brien) Agosto and I attended meetings, drove clients to get services and made sure that providers hired Latinos to service the community.
“In 1993, I obtained a job as a member of Child Study Team in Hammonton and took a year off as director of the agency. I returned to school and did one year at the Family Institute in Philadelphia, so that I can obtained further training to better serve families needing counseling. My younger daughter Charis needed me home, so I was unable to return for the final year of training,” Munoz said.
Munoz is experienced in nonprofit organizations social services, strategic planning, conflict resolution, volunteer management. She earned her bachelor’s a Shaw University and master’s degree in social work from Rutgers University-Camden.
Munoz said the advanced degree, though, was to help her help others.
“I must add that we must remain humble no matter how much education or how many awards we have received, because at the end people will remember you for your acts of kindness towards those that less fortunate,” she said.
“I have served the less fortunate for years and have signed the necessary documents, so upon my demise science can study my body and hopefully find cures for future illnesses that can help others in the future,” Munoz added.
Munoz said her sense of caring came from a close family bond where everyone supported each other.
“I come from a family that has a strong family bond and have always encouraged and supported me in the things I have done in life,” Munoz said. “My beloved matriarch Esmeralda was a hard-working single mother that made sure that her children had food and a roof over their head. She worked in the Millinery Industry in New York making little money, but we never had food stamps or received assistance from the government.
“My beloved brother Juan Jr., left school at the age of 17 and worked in a factory to help our beloved mother with household expenses. He was extremely fortunate that his then boss took an interest in his skills and in a short time my brother started his own business. He was a wholesale distributor of plastic to those making plastic covers for furniture,” she said.
Munoz said he did well enough to buy a building for his business. She said it took one summer working with her mother to realize that factory work was not for her.
Important Role Models
“I was blessed, because my mother was a big advocate of education and encourage my younger brother and I to complete high school,” Munoz said. “My mother and brother were the most important role models in my life. Although I got married a month after graduating from high school and relocated to Newark leaving my family in New York, I would travel to New York every weekend to see them.
“I had my first daughter Arlene and three years later my son Cee. Before they were old enough to enter school, my late spouse and I purchased our first home and moved to South Jersey in order to provide a better environment for our children. I was fortunate enough to find day care for them and get a job helping migrant workers,” she added.
Munoz touched on several other topics with Front Runner New Jersey/La Prensa.
Support from family
Lydia Munoz: My beloved mother and brothers supported me financially and emotionally in everything in have done in my career. The strong family ties that I learned from my matriarch is getting passed on to my three adult children, Arlene, Cee and Charis. I love the way their children and grandchildren are with other family members. Mentoring begins with our biological and extended family.
Job with Atlantic County Special Services
Lydia Munoz: I took a job at Atlantic County Special Services in 1995 and retired in December 2008. Working with Special Needs students, I again saw the need to be their voice and ascertain that they were receiving all the services they were entitled to obtain. I had a strong relationship with the students and their parents during my tenure there.
Greatest challenges for the local Latino community
Lydia Munoz: What I see as the greatest challenge in the Latino community is the division of leaders with their own personal agendas. If we are sincere about serving the community, we must unite, so that we can obtain greater things for those that need services.
Lydia Munoz: As a mother/grandmother and great grandmother, I strongly believe that we must serve as positive role model and teach the younger generation to serve others and give back to the community. I feel that given back is much more rewarding than being the recipient of goods. I continue to tell the young ones the importance of education, kindness and service to humanity.
Lydia Munoz: My daily inspiration are those that have been by my side for so many years, my family and blessed to have the strength to get up and work every day.
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