|Isabel Villar '72|
Isabel Villar '72
Executive Director, El Centro Hispano, Inc.
Isabel was a distinguished speaker at Manhattanville's 5th Annual Human Rights Awareness Day on Saturday, November 19, 2011.
It would be impossible for me to overestimate the impact my experience at Manhattanville College has had on my life. As a recently arrived refugee from Cuba, I had to start my life over in a foreign land where everything – language, customs, traditions – was strange. Receiving a scholarship to Manhattanville only 2 years after my arrival in the US meant much more to me than just the opportunity to pursue higher education. My academic studies, outside activities, and relationships with professors and fellow students all inspired me to expand my horizons and helped me become part of the fabric of America's multicultural society.
After graduating from Manhattanville, I earned a master's degree in education from NYU. Later on I received a professional diploma in administration and supervision from Iona College and certification as a guidance counselor from Long Island University. I began my career as a teacher of English as a Second Language and American History and 16 years later became a guidance counselor in the Norwalk, CT, Public Schools. In 2004 I took early retirement to devote myself full-time to El Centro Hispano, Inc., in White Plains, a non-profit social service organization I helped found in 1974 and of which I have been the Executive Director for 38 years.
The mission of El Centro Hispano is to strengthen Hispanic families by providing them with information about health, housing, employment, and immigration matters and to assist with translations. El Centro Hispano also provides these families with outreach, counseling, education, and advocacy programs to help them become self-sufficient. During 2010 we served 16,408 clients in White Plains and Westchester County. In 2008 we opened our newly-built Technology Center where children and adults alike have many opportunities to learn the computer skills they need for education, employment and personal growth.
And my relationship with Manhattanville is an on-going one. Since 1989 Manhattanville has partnered with El Centro Hispano in the Manhattanville College/El Centro Hispano Tutorial Program which provides academic support to Hispanic students at White Plains High School. Approximately 130 students benefit from this program each year and it would not be possible without the help we receive from Manhattanville. And last year Manhattanville joined with Centro Hispano, the White Plains Board of Education and Westchester Community College to form a new program, My Older Sister – Mi Hermana Mayor, which pairs 7th and 8th grade Hispanic girls with older Hispanic "sisters" from area colleges.
I am so grateful to Manhattanville for giving me the courage, the hope and the vision I have needed to meet the exciting challenges and opportunities that were awaiting me here in my new country.