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¡Wepa!: Shining the Spotlight on MCN Staff Superstars for International Women's Day

International Women's Day

¡Wepa! The virtual halls of MCN are ringing with the celebratory word, common in Puerto Rico, and regularly used here at MCN to celebrate our accomplishments. With today being International Women's Day, we are choosing to celebrate the incredible changemaking professionals at MCN, dozens of women who push forward our mission on a daily basis. Sometimes those efforts get loud celebration (such as the city of Austin honoring Roxana Pineda, MPH, Coordinator for Austin Ventanilla de Salud with her own day) but much of the time, their incredible efforts don't get the applause and kudos they deserve. There are so many incredibly dynamic, impressively awesome women who run the world of MCN, we had to settle on covering four, because selecting just one proved an impossible task. So, on this special day, we offer this love letter aiming to highlight some of the unsung heroines whose contributions of passion and professionalism make MCN great.

Pineda, a native of Veracruz, Mexico, has a background in nutrition, community organizing, and public health. A graduate of Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon, Mexico, Pineda’s experience as a consultant and advocate proved to be instrumental in the efforts to manage COVID-19 within the city of Austin. Her work increases access to preventative care like vaccines and screenings among the Latinx population. While the recognition might have shocked Pineda—who is often described as “humble” by her colleagues—it came as no surprise to those who have worked with her.

“Roxana is such a wonderful and beautiful person,” Marcy Rodriguez, Financial and Executive Associate, said. “She is very kind and passionate. I love when I get to work with her! She is a hard worker and dedicated in helping people.”

The dedication to helping people is the driving force behind Pineda’s passionate work of advocacy, education, and organizing. The programming she has created has led to incredible breakthroughs, including the distinction of helping both the VdS and MCN save lives. In addition to sparking admiration among her colleagues, her razor-sharp focus is the source of her impressive ability to “get amazing things done,” according to Laszlo Madaras, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer. 

“She has a very strong sense of right and wrong, so she will stand up for the right thing and never back down,” he said. “Yet she’s a gentle soul who can be fierce when needed.”

Fierceness is a common thread within MCN’s extraordinary women. In some instances, that ferocity is channeled in quiet strength—the willpower to be optimistic and warm, and remain compassionate. The pursuit for health justice on behalf of immigrants, migrants, asylum seekers, food and farmworkers, and other underserved people can be both relentless and thankless, which makes finding a reason to celebrate the silver linings even more important. As many of the staff at MCN know, no one excels at this quite like Dina Gonzalez, Project Associate. 

“Dina is more than just a coworker, she's a ray of sunshine that brightens up our East Coast office and makes even the most challenging days feel manageable,” Esther Rojas, Eastern Regional Office Project Coordinator, said. “She's a true team player who consistently goes above and beyond to support us and ensure our success. Dina is a shining example of what it means to be an MCNer: dedicated, hardworking, and compassionate to all.” 

Compassion is a repetitive theme in her background. Born and raised Nicaragua, Gonzalez spent a portion of her youth in northern Honduras. She eventually married a pastor, and together, they worked as missionaries, serving in a series of posts along the East Coast, as well as abroad. Her professional background includes more than a decade of advocacy and engagement with education, outreach, and prevention, primarily with Latinx populations on subjects including cancer detection, pesticide exposure, and heat stress. These experiences highlight the same traits her colleagues are eager to comment on. 

“I remember hearing that some of the struggles she went through back in her home country, and I was pretty amazed,” Myrellis Muñiz-Márquez, MPH, Puerto Rico Program Manager, said. “She is such an amazing, resilient, and strong woman, who always has a smile for me when I need it. I just respect, adore, and admire her so much.”

Admiration might seem to be a strong descriptor. After all, it conveys a considerable amount of respect and reverence, something that can be found in abundance when MCN staff members are asked to offer praise to their colleagues. Even with a culture of positive affirmation as the baseline, certain staff members are held in high regard just because of the sheer power of their presence. One such staff member is Martha Alvarado, who serves as the Program Manager for Online Education and Evaluation, whom others regard as “a true pillar of MCN and the work we do,” according to Sonia Alvarado, Data Specialist and Administrative Support, who also happens to be her niece.

“She has a dedicated, hardworking nature, a great eye for detail, and a sense of humor that she brings to her work every day—I am constantly inspired by her and all she does,” she explained.

Born to migrant parents in Northern California, Alvarado attended Mendocino College before attending California State University, Chico. In 2009, she graduated with a degree in General Biology. Just six years later, she joined the staff at MCN. Alvarado proved to be a capable, adept student, and these qualities have influenced her professional reputation as well. Much like the philosophy of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” one of her favorite TV shows, Alvarado is not afraid to “boldly go where no one has gone before.” With respect to her work at MCN, that recognition means that Alvarado has single-handedly elevated the bar of the education offered to frontline clinicians everywhere.

“Without Martha's passion and dedication, we wouldn't have the engaging learning opportunities that have become so popular with clinicians and community health workers looking to better serve their communities,” Giovanni Lopez-Quezada, Communications and Graphic Designer, said.

Passion also plays a powerful role in the career of Jessica Calderón. Initially an MCN intern while completing her undergraduate studies at Texas State University, Austin, Calderón served alongside Pineda at the Mexican Consulate. After graduating with degrees in both Psychology and Spanish Literature, she joined the Health Network team, specializing in Emerging Issues. Over a year ago, Calderón transitioned into the role of Project Coordinator for the Witness to Witness project. The transition empowered Calderón to become an even larger force of nature in advocating for vulnerable people, something her coworkers noted was already chiefly ingrained in her personality.

“Jessica can always be counted on to advocate for those in need. Wherever there are needs to be addressed you will find Jessica reaching out to offer helpful resources and support,” Theressa Lyons-Clampitt, Senior Program Manager, Training and Technical Assistance, said. “I am inspired by how thoughtful and compassionate she is with her willingness to lead by example in helping others.” 

Calderón’s compassion is similarly showcased by her considerable heart. She has a reputation for cheering coworkers on during difficult times, and taking it upon herself to ease their burdens. She is especially noted for her willingness to “go the extra mile for those here at MCN and everywhere,” said Mónica Fossi, Translation and Communications Coordinator.

The Witness to Witness project’s director, Kaethe Weingarten, PhD, agreed, citing Calderón’s unknown role in supporting the Health Network associates through twice-a-month meetings. Facilitated with Rachel Dash, a Witness to Witness associate, the combination is one Dr. Weingarten describes as the ‘dynamic duo.’ Calderón “cares deeply about those conversations,” Dr. Weingarten explains.

“Jessica is kind, warm, smart, and has excellent judgment.  Her comfort zone is learning new things, which makes her a dream colleague,” Dr. Weingarten said. “Her compassion and wisdom make a difference.”

Making a difference is a common theme throughout the feedback offered on these incredible women, just four on the long roster of incredible justice-oriented changemakers who propel MCN forward. Out of 52 people on our staff page, 39 are women. MCN would not be who we are without these women. On behalf of the constituency and community that makes up MCN, we wish to extend our sincere thanks to all of MCN’s remarkable women, for their contributions on behalf of vulnerable populations and the clinicians who care for them in the name of health justice. Happy International Women’s Day!