MERIDEN — Advocating for her community is what Maria Campos-Harlow has done since she came to the United States in 2001. On Thursday, she will have the chance to share her experiences and the importance of advocacy at the 20th annual Latinas & Power Symposium.
Harlow, executive director at United Way of Meriden and Wallingford, will be a morning panelist alongside Mony Ruiz-Velasco, human rights advocate, attorney, and deputy director of Equality Illinois; and Caprice Taylor Mendez, president of Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut.
Their moderator is Yvette Peña, vice president of Hispanic/Latino Audience Strategy at the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at AARP.
The four speakers will discuss the power of advocacy: how it has been fundamental in their work and beneficial to the community.
“I am very honored and happy to be a panelist,” Harlow said.
When choosing a speaker, Marilyn Alverio, CEO of Latinas & Power Corporation, seeks certain qualities.
“We take note of all aspects of their life. Not just how they manage their career or other people, but how they give back to the community. What are their values and does it align with ours? We want to see if they strive to inspire and motivate other Latinas to succeed,” Alverio said.
According to Alverio, she has been observing Harlow for 15 years, and when they met, she was impressed with not just her professionalism, but her kindness, approachability, passion, and sincerity.
“I think we have a responsibility to encourage and inspire others to be their best self,” Harlow said. “Us Latinos come from wonderful places, and we left our countries to come to the United States for a fresh start and that already requires so much courage.”
Harlow came to the United States from Bogota, Colombia. Initially, she only wanted to come for a few months to improve her English but she ended up staying and married her husband in 2006.
“After moving to Wallingford, I reached out to SCOW because I wanted to volunteer,” Harlow said. “When I started, I realized that I had so much to learn and that there was so much offered to me. That’s why I became so passionate about helping the Latino community.”
When she began her position as executive director at the Spanish Community of Wallingford in 2010, the nonprofit organization offered services like helping individuals fill out paperwork and provide referrals to services.
“For me, it became important to provide educational programs to help the community learn English, improve their literacy skills, computer skills, and for them to learn about the services at town, municipal, and state agencies,” Harlow said. “As a team, we also started the youth leadership and STEM program.”
At the time, Adriana Rodriguez, current executive director at SCOW, took over their Adelante! Program; Maria Pilar Solis got certified to do immigration work; and Lizandra Mejias-Salinas started providing translation services.
“I am so proud of each one of the women that work at SCOW,” Harlow said.
When starting at United Way in 2018, her scope of work increased to not only the Latino community, but the community at large in Meriden and Wallingford.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harlow took the initiative to keep in touch with their network, taking note of how they were doing and what they needed. In addition, Harlow participated in meetings with different committees, and learned about the variety of resources available to the community.
“But because there was so much information and it could be difficult for people to navigate, we started our PowerUp Program,” Harlow said.
The PowerUp Workforce Initiative, according to United Way of Meriden and Wallingford, is to encourage and support motivated individuals to get into their upskilling career path to earn a stronger income to better support their families.
Now, Harlow is working to make sure that when ARPA funds are being distributed in Wallingford, it goes to the businesses, nonprofits, and individuals that struggled during the pandemic.
“It’s important to advocate for your community,” Harlow said. “Because services and changes can be provided for those who need it.”
The Latina & Power Symposium will be held in person on Thursday, June 1, at the Marriott Downtown Hartford.
A livestream is available for $25 between 10:15 a.m. and 5 p.m.