Gabriella Gabriel Paéz, a student in the Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership (NPL) program at the Penn School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), was recognized as Activist of the Year at SustainPHL 2018.
The annual awards ceremony and celebration, hosted by the sustainable lifestyle blog Green Philly, includes environmentally and locally-conscious award categories such as “Climate Hero” and “Neighborhood Champion.” According to the SustainPHL organizers, the Activist of the Year honor serves to recognize a community leader who has demonstrated dedication to a sustainability cause through “increasing visibility and awareness of sustainability initiatives to new and broader audiences.”
In addition to working toward her graduate degree, Paéz serves as the Education and Community Development Coordinator at Esperanza, a nonprofit organization focused on strengthening Hispanic communities through education, economic development, and advocacy. Paéz received the Activist of the Year award in acknowledgment of her leadership in providing sustainable resources to Philadelphia’s Hunting Park neighborhood.
Through her work at Esperanza, Paéz has worked closely with residents of Hunting Park, a predominately Hispanic community, on a number of neighborhood revitalization initiatives. She leads the NeighborCare program, which funds cleanup and greening projects in the area, in addition to managing the Hunting Park Community Collaborative and the Hunting Park Community Science Network. Paéz also heads community development aspects of the Hunting Park 2022 Strategic Plan, which includes efforts to increase open space and protect the local environment.
“This award meant a lot to me. Not because of the personal recognition, but because of what it means to the community I serve,” Paéz explained. “Often times, people’s perception of Hunting Park is quite negative. My goal in doing this work is to make sure outsiders see and know about the great work that has been done in the neighborhood, and how we’re working together to make Hunting Park not just a better place, but a model in Philadelphia.”
Paéz’s involvement with the Hunting Park area began when she moved from the Dominican Republic to Philadelphia as a teenager. She attended Esperanza Academy, located in Hunting Park, and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in biology at Eastern University. Paéz then returned to Esperanza Academy as a tutor and substitute teacher, and later joined the Housing and Economic Development team at Esperanza. In addition to her environmentally-oriented outreach work, Paéz leads the implementation of STEM education outreach in the community through her role at Esperanza.
The organization is also currently a finalist among Philadelphia-area nonprofits in the Aetna Voices of Health competition, in which Esperanza is eligible to secure up to $20,000 in funding to further their mission.
Paéz dedicated her award to the residents and stakeholders — including Esperanza and other local organizations— that have joined forces to revitalize the community. She also credits her time in the NPL program as being integral to her endeavors, and looks forward to expanding her knowledge further.
“My education at SP2 has been key in designing ways to expand this work and impact many more people. In the few months I’ve been in the program, I have been able to refine my skills to better understand, communicate, and implement the diverse sustainability and education programs I currently work on,” Paéz said. “It has also allowed me to think about the future and the big picture, and create plans for what’s coming next.”