Celebrating Latino Leaders: Marta Moret
"We’ve made a commitment in the five years we have been doing this to use the resources of Yale for the needs of New Haven. It has been a wonderful blend of our commitment to the community and the wonderful resources that Yale University has."
President, Urban Policy Strategies, LLC
Hometown: South Bronx, New York
Marta Moret’s parents, natives of Puerto Rico, came to America separately and met in New York shortly after World War II. After settling in the South Bronx for a few years, Marta’s family moved to Milford, Conn. in the early 1950s. During that time, Marta recalls the isolation of being the only Latino family in her neighborhood and one of only two families of color. Growing up, education was important to Marta, as she was the first person to attend college in her family. She attended Western Connecticut State University, and later Yale University to obtain a Master’s in Public Health.
Partners in Life and Love
Yale is where Marta met Peter Salovey in 1983. He would become her husband and then in 2013, President of Yale University.
“There are two things that I’m doing as the wife of the President of Yale University,” Marta explains. “We’ve made a commitment in the five years we have been doing this to use the resources of Yale for the needs of New Haven. It has been a wonderful blend of our commitment to the community and the wonderful resources that Yale University has.“
When Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017, Marta and Peter stayed true to their commitment.
Puerto Rico Comes to New Haven
“During Hurricane Maria, my father died, so I was reaching out to relatives all over to let them know he had died,” says Marta. “It was impossible to reach many of the families that were up in the mountains, and in the early days, we could not even reach people around San Juan. So I was feeling terrible about it. Peter and I spent time talking about what we could do, both as a couple and as representatives of Yale University.”
After brainstorming, Marta reached out to Dr. Suzanne LaGarde, Executive Director of the Fair Haven Community Health Center. Suzanne provided Marta with information on what she called a humanitarian crisis facing at the Center as evacuees from Puerto Rico, many with significant health needs, sought a new start in New Haven.
“Once the airports opened, [evacuees] were coming by the dozens to the state and Suzanne was worried about New Haven, “Marta explained. Resources were stretched and there were no funds for staff to process information needed for FEMA applications, or help to feed, clothe and house the families.
Hearing this, Marta reached out to community leaders, putting together a team. Within 24 hours, her team was able to find staff to process the necessary paperwork, secure housing for evacuees and had arranged for winter clothing donations.
Creating New Systems and Sustainability
Marta was pleased with the work to help the Puerto Rican evacuees that had come to New Haven but thought she could be doing more.
She started working with a group of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and administrators. Many of them were Puerto Rican; all were eager to put together a long-term sustainability plan for the island of Puerto Rico.
“It is amazing to have Puerto Rican and Latino scholars from Yale exchange ideas with scholars from Puerto Rico about the environment, about the public health ramifications of a terrible water system, the lack of cooling and electricity that are found on the island. We are going to end up with all kind of diseases. So [we’re] tracking that, figuring out what to do about it as Yale researchers work directly with non-governmental organizations (NGO) in Puerto Rico to determine what is needed for long-term sustainability and self-sufficiency.
The NGOs have asked for:
- help with training people to put up solar panels on houses so they would no longer have to depend on the power grid
- technical assistance to help hospitals to deal with health breakouts that are likely to occur in the future
- help with addressing the rising rate of depression and suicide of Puerto Rican families dealing with tremendous trauma both on the island and in the US.
Marta and her team are hoping that in the next six months they can secure resources to hire a part-time or full-time bilingual coordinator/ researcher who is knowledgeable about community-based organizations and their needs to help the group organize and move their plan forward.
Marta is not alone in her efforts. The Progreso Latino Fund (PLF), which Marta helped found in 2003, has also taken action in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Today, PLF has made grants totaling over $23,000 to support disaster relief and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and Mexico, and to support those who have moved to Greater New Haven.
Marta broke down what she wants her legacy to be into three parts:
“If I can influence how Yale works as a major community partner to help Hurricane Maria families, that would be amazing,” Marta says. “If I draw attention to the idea that in the policy and in public health and in other realms there are women of color who are just brilliant, making decisions and effecting change, I would love that as a second legacy. The third legacy is my teaching in public health. I want to be remembered as someone who spent a lot of time to help students, especially students of color and first-gen students to become the professionals of the future while working with vulnerable populations. That would be a great legacy.”