We are currently celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month, which pays tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society. This year FFH would like to amplify the stories of our Hispanic employees and the ways they positively impact our work and the communities we serve. We hope you enjoy hearing their stories as much as we have.
Spotlight: Celia Iris Serrano
Lead Community Health Worker, FFH Hannah Penn K-8
Q: Tell us about yourself and a little bit about your Hispanic heritage
A: My mom, Francisca Ramirez-Arroyo, was born and raised in a small town called El Mani within Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. I was conceived there, but born in New York. Back in those days, if a daughter became pregnant out of wedlock, she brought shame and dishonor to her family. Therefore, my grandparents sent my mom to New York to live with my grandmother’s brother until she gave birth. The plan was to give me up for adoption and then send my mom back to Puerto Rico. My mom was 20 years old. She lived in NY with her uncle for a couple of months until she managed to run away. Mind you, she had nowhere to go, did not know anyone in that big city, she was several months pregnant and knew very little English. My mom was homeless for several weeks – sleeping on the streets and eating scraps from local restaurants trash. When a woman named Celia Iris found her and took her in. She provided my mom with a safe place to live, showed my mom around the city. She helped my mom apply for Medical Assistance and SNAP. She helped her find a job, setup a bank account, and ultimately helped her find her own apartment. Both my mom and Celia Iris were amazing strong women who persevered against all odds and set the mold for the person I have become.
Q: What has your career path looked like and how did you end up at FFH?
A: I have a troubled past and made a lot of bad decisions, however, I have always felt like I’ve had a guardian angel watching over me and always nudging me in the right direction. My career took off when a friend saw an article in the New York Times about a program called Wild Cat for young mothers receiving public assistance. This program offered job training, computer classes, assistance with finding childcare, interview skills, proper way to dress for an interview, and provided you with a voucher to Dress for Success. When I went in to apply for the training, the woman I met with told me that there was a current internship computer-training program that runs for 6 months and at the end of the 6 months, we will have the opportunity to interview for a corporate job within Salomon Smith Barney. However, there was one issue; the program was already three months in. I told the woman if given the opportunity, I would catch up with the class, interview and get a job within Salomon Smith Barney. She said she could not make that decision, but if I truly wanted the opportunity, she would call the head of the program and see if she would hear me out and allow me into the program. Guess what, I finished that program, interviewed and became the Executive Assistant to the Vice President of Purchasing within Salomon Smith Barney. Throughout my years, I have worked for many Fortune 500 companies, but none has truly allowed me to help people the way Family First Health has. I heard about an open Community Health Worker position at FFH through my daughter who had also applied for the position. I read the job description and thought this it; this is what I have been looking for.
Q: What is your role at FFH?
A: I started with FFH as a Community Health Worker on 10/19/2020, and on 6/7/2021, I became Lead. As a Community Health Worker, I meet with community members and assess for social determinates of health and help connect them to affordable health care, food, medical assistance, SNAP, and also connect them with local resources for help with housing, job training, employment, etc.
Q: How have you been able to celebrate your Hispanic heritage at FFH?
A: I have been able to participate in several events and projects within the Hispanic community, which have allowed me to make connections and assist them with their immediate needs, and helped setup goals for achieving self-sufficiency. It is so humbling when you connect with a community member and are able to communicate with them in their language.
Q: What is something you would like your coworkers and community to know about you?
A: Like I said in the beginning, I have a troubled past and made a lot of bad decisions, however I have never given up, and have never allowed for anyone to use my past as a way to deter me from setting and achieving my goals. I hope that my story not only inspires others to pursue and never give-up on their dreams, but to show kindness to others, and to help one another whenever possible.