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Meet Maria Soco Pesqueira of Healthy Communities Foundation in Western Cook County

Today we’d like to introduce you to Maria Soco Pesqueira.

Maria, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was brought to this country at the age of six, to one of the most socially and economically disadvantaged communities of Healthy Community Foundation’s service area, Summit, Illinois. Today I still live within that service area, a few blocks from where I was brought up. As a newcomer to the U.S., I learned rudimentary English, and by age 11, I began providing translation and advocacy assistance to my parents, extended family members and neighbors to help them understand, navigate and resolve issues faced daily with the medical, legal, transportation, utilities and other public service systems.

As I recall these childhood experiences, I felt compassion, truly enjoyed and was successful at serving and helping people live better, healthier and more promising lives. Now as an adult, I understand the origins of my connectedness with foundational values such as compassion, justice, equity, opportunity, collaborative effort, honesty, respect, transparency and providing others with tools for success, all of which and more are strong drivers for me, making me into what I now understand to be defined as a servant leader.

Throughout my professional career, all of my jobs have enabled me to practice and develop a clear lens for social equity, inclusion, and justice. This informs my conviction that regardless of income levels, racial/ethnic background, religious beliefs, immigration status or where one lives, everyone should have the human right to a healthy life.

For fifteen years, I led and managed Mujeres Latinas in Acción, an organization whose focus is to build Latina power and to guarantee them and their families the fundamental human right to reproductive health, freedom from violence, dignity, and justice. The Mujeres’ team has mobilized families, transformed the cultural narrative and catalyzed policy change. One of my first acts as president was to convene a series of OpenSpace meetings to hear from stakeholders. These conversations helped to inform Mujeres’ agenda. Convening participants and other groups for their input is a valued and frequent process, and one that I continue as I lead the Healthy Communities Foundation.

In addition to hearing and heeding the voices of individuals and organizations, I am committed to data-informed practices. At Mujeres, in partnership with area scholars, I initiated the series Latina Portrait, an annual comprehensive study of Latinas in Chicago, based on findings from both quantitative and qualitative research and analysis. Recently, as chair I led the Illinois Partners for Human Services, a statewide network of more than 850 organizations representing every region in the state of Illinois, advocating for high quality, evidence-based, sustainable approaches to providing human services. In partnership with area researchers, Illinois Partners conducted studies shedding light on the impact of late payments and Illinois’ budget impasse.

The Healthy Communities Foundation board hired me six months ago to give the foundation a fresh start and to lead its strategy and vision. I have delved in and I am learning all that I can about the non-profits in our geographic area that contribute to the health and wellness of the people who live here. Our 2017 grants were committed to undergirding the sector, which has been battered in ways that are understood in part through the research done by Illinois Partners.

In many ways, Healthy Communities Foundation is a start-up. The foundation board of directors is also new. The board’s vision is to become a community-engaged and community-informed grant-making foundation. In 2018 we are beginning a strategic planning process. We will add to what we learned from our grantees during the application process, gather input from community members, prospective and current grantees and other stakeholders, and consult research and data to set foundation giving priorities. The goal of our strategic planning is to identify and define program strategies that leverage our many community assets. We believe in partnerships and collaboration, and finding the best ways that the foundation can contribute to making our communities the healthiest in the region.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The challenge for me as a leader is to create an organization that is transparent and participatory. While the foundation has a new name and logo, our brand is the full mental package that people have through their experience with us. We are in the process of recalibrating who we are and forming new relationships with the communities we serve. It is important to me that our strategic planning process is open and transparent, and that we maintain a regular dialogue with the community not just for planning, but always. While the foundation will pursue well-researched and evidence-based strategies, we want to balance that will flexibility. We are continual learners and innovators. We remain flexible to iterate based on new knowledge or changes in the climate or circumstances. We listen and respond to our community and grantees, and collaborate to produce demonstrable results.

I am grateful for my relationships in the community, built through a lifetime of service and community involvement, and I add to that numerous national boards and commissions. I am often called upon to speak at conferences across the country, including at the White House. I have become a sought-after thought leader by local and national media. It’s been a long journey for that young girl in Summit, IL who translated street signs for her parents and figured out bus routes for her neighbors. It has brought me here, where I stand ready and fully prepared to help Healthy Communities Foundation become the force for good that it is fully capable of becoming.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Healthy Communities Foundation – what should we know?
I am president of Healthy Communities Foundation, a community informed grant making foundation that seeks to measurably improve the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities in our service area by promoting health equity, quality, and access for all.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Core Values

Healthy Communities Foundation Is Committed To:

Energizing the spirit and potential of our local community.
Being respectful, interactive, and responsive in our communication with grantees and the people most affected by a problem or condition.
Serving the most socially and economically vulnerable members of our community.
Giving people in our community the tools to lead healthy, productive lives.
Building a culture of learning and sharing that empowers our local leadership and institutions.
Supporting evidence-based practices that produce measurable results.
Understanding and addressing long-term systems change.
Maintaining the highest legal and ethical standards in the stewardship of foundation resources

Contact Info:

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