Celebrating Latino Leaders: Sandra Trevino
“We do need more Latino leaders in order to address and advocate for the different needs in our community. In my opinion, promoting cultural traditions as well as accepting other cultures is vital and necessary.”
Executive Director, Junta for Progressive Action
Hometown: Brownsville, TX
Sandra Trevino believes that research saves lives.
She has plenty of research to back up that belief, having worked as a licensed clinical social worker specializing in childhood mental health disorders at the Yale Child Study Center, and later as a research associate at the Department of Emergency Medicine at Yale School of Medicine.
And, currently, as executive director at Junta for Progressive Action, she collaborates with the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation (YCCI) to increase the representation of New Haven’s Latino community in clinical trials.
“Our mission is to help, advocate and empower communities, thereby ensuring a better life for others.”
According to the YCCI, Latinos are diagnosed with diabetes, asthma, and certain cancers in disproportionate numbers. But, they are underrepresented in clinical trials. Junta’s partnership with YCCI is ensuring that clinical research designed to combat such diseases is taking the Latino community into account.
“Research can ensure that our needs are met and help future generations. But - most importantly - it is saving lives right here in this community.”
Along with research, Sandra has a passion for human rights, and Junta has been advocating strongly for comprehensive immigration reform, community safety and workers’ rights since its inception. Recent events, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s stalemate regarding President Obama’s executive actions on Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), have only strengthened Sandra’s resolve.
“When the news of the 4-4 decision issued by the Supreme Court was announced, I was overwhelmed with sadness and anger. Then we started hearing that there is nothing we can do, which is far from the truth. We will continue to fight for and demand comprehensive immigration reform.”
Born in Ohio and raised in Brownsville, Texas - where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology - Sandra came to New Haven in 2003, after receiving her Master’s of Social Work from the University of Texas-Pan American. She spent her first two years as a fellow at the Yale Child Study Center, and continued on as an instructor there for an additional two years.
In 2005, Sandra was introduced to Junta for Progressive Action and began working with then Executive Director Kica Matos to establish The Neighborhood Place, a therapeutic afterschool program to support at-risk children referred by local agencies such as Clifford Beers, Yale Child Study Center and Cornell Scott Hill Health Center.
“At that point, I realized I wanted to do community-based work, helping and advocating for our community. When Kica decided to go work for the City of New Haven in 2007, I was offered the position of interim executive director.”
The rest, Sandra says, is history. She later became executive director and has served in that role since. She finds other ways to give back to her community as well, currently serving on the Board of Directors of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas. She is a former New Haven Police Commissioner (2007 – 2014) and has previously served on several other nonprofit Boards, including Literacy Coalition of Greater New Haven, Concepts for Adaptive Learning, and Read to Grow.
“Literacy is another passion of mine, because so many learning disabilities go undetected. When given the opportunity, I share my own personal struggle with dyslexia in order to encourage others not to give up when faced with a learning disability.”
Nurturing Passion and Concern
The city of Brownsville is located at the southernmost tip of Texas, on the northern bank of the Rio Grande. Sandra’s family has been there for generations, residents of a region that has been considered part of Spain, Mexico, Texas (an independent nation) and, finally, the state of Texas.
Sandra’s family made their living as migrant workers, which meant the majority of men in her family – her father and uncles – were out working in the fields during the day. So she remembers the women in her family, including her mother, grandmother and many aunts as the biggest influences on her young life.
“They made things happen! I was part of a family who would help others, regardless. Even if we only had a little bit for ourselves, they were helping individuals with difficulties that we all had the potential of experiencing, because we were all in the same situation.”
She says some of the traits of the women in her family - patience, courage, trustworthiness, humility, emotional stability, warmth and sense of humor – are the same traits that make strong Latino leaders in our community today.
“I think success is when you’re able to help others without expecting anything in return. And I think that individuals that are in that position should really take the time to mentor others, because a lot of us just get here by chance. No one took the time to invest in us, and if there was more of that, think of how many more great leaders there would be.”
Just as in clinical research, community leadership and development requires a representation of all parties involved. And Sandra wants to see more Latinos stepping up to the challenge.
“We do need more Latino leaders in order to address and advocate for the different needs in our community. In my opinion, promoting cultural traditions as well as accepting other cultures is vital and necessary. As we continue to struggle and face adversity with racism, gender discrimination and hate crimes, I urge all to do their part to create a better life for others.”