Following months of internal turmoil, the executive director of a Fair Haven-based agency that has helped lead New Haven’s emergence as a “sanctuary city” for Latino immigrants is stepping down.
The executive director, Sandra Trevino, hinted as much Friday night at the agency’s sold-out 48th anniversary gala at Amarante’s Sea Cliff in Morris Cove. “My journey at Junta was amazing, but like all journeys, there were also difficult times, but at the end, I’m grateful for the opportunity,” she told the crowd.
She later confirmed in a follow-up interview that she is retiring on Oct. 20 after running the agency for 11 years. Junta’s board also issued a statement announcing her retirement and acknowledging the internal conflicts, which have stemmed at least in part from Junta’s dual mission providing social services (like English as a Second language courses) and organizing in the community for structural change. The firings of Junta immigrant-rights organizers Ana María Forastieri and Alok Batt sparked a community petition drive calling for Trevino’s removal. (Click here to read a story about that by the New Haven Register’s Mary O’Leary.)
“Sandra recently let us know that she intends to depart so that she can return to social work and personally working directly with families in need, something which originally brought her to Junta 11 years ago. We wish Sandra well and are excited to learn more about how she will continue her commitment to children and families in her next venture,” the board statement read.
In an earlier statement issued by Junta’s Board of Directors on Aug. 24, only two weeks before Friday’s gala, the board discussed the challenges of addressing Junta’s dual mission — advocacy and direct services. “We are going through difficult times when resources for both direct services and the rights we look to protect for our community come under threat. It is not surprising that in these times, there are disagreements about the best path forward.”
The statement acknowledged some community concerns about recent personnel changes at Junta: “We respect everyone’s right to have an opinion but will not comment on personnel matters other than to say we believe the people involved are all good people who share a commitment to social justice.”
The short statement also hinted at an organizational shift: “There will be some further changes as the board looks to align our work with the needs of the community, and to address the threats that our community faces. We ask everyone to bear with us through this process.”
In an interview, Trevino talked about some of the accomplishments that the organization has achieved during her tenure:
“I had the opportunity to work with great individuals and organizations, and witnessed the passing of the in-state tuition bill, the driver’s licenses for all, and Trust Act bills,” she said. Another important factor was incorporating health literacy into our adult education classes to promote wellness and decrease health risks. I’ll never forget the amount of people who lined up at our front doors for food and food vouchers after the housing market crash. We worked around the clock to ensure we would help all…. And the tears of joy I experienced when President Obama announced the DACA program. ”
Trevino acknowledged the sacrifices made by her husband and family. She also made it clear that Junta’s successes belong to many, including a “supportive board, passionate staff, dedicated volunteers, generous donors and our community.”
Trevino said that she looks forward to doing clinical work and spending more time with her family.
The board promised a national search for a new director.
Asked if she had any words for her replacement, Trevino’s answer was short and born of experience: “Community work is not easy but is certainly necessary. Helping others to improve their lives is a blessing.”
The Band Played On
A series of sharp strikes on the clave, a popular Latin percussion instrument, by emcee and Junta board co-chair, Rafael Ramos, brought the crowd to attention as he opened Friday’s gala with a brief music lesson about the instrument.
The event was officially entitled “Somos Junta” (We are Junta). It opened with a cocktail hour on an enormous, port-side deck with views of a glowing harbor sunset. Friends, supporters and sponsors then transitioned to the ball room for commencement of the evening’s program.
The program’s list of honorees included a Partnership Award presented to Fair Haven Health Center, which serves annually 18,000 patients “who struggle with poverty, language barriers, food insecurity, unemployment, transportation and citizenship” through a holistic approach that “takes the complete person into consideration, not just treatment of their acute needs.”
A Community Advocate Award went to pastor Hector Luis Otero of Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal Church, a leader in the sanctuary church movement.
Also receiving the Community Advocate Award was fellow immigrant-rights advocate Rabbi Herbert N. Brockman of Congregation Mishkan Israel, “who teaches and engages in community projects and has been at the forefront of interfaith and justice work not only in New Haven but nationally and internationally.”
Not officially listed in the program was a surprise forth award presented to Trevino by Junta’s Board of Directors honoring her 11 years of service to the organization.
In accepting the award, an inscribed bracelet, Trevino spoke briefly about her first day at the not-for-profit agency.
“On my first day as Junta’s executive director, I kept thinking, ‘What am I doing here, leading an agency, when I’m a therapist?’” she recalled.
“I was overwhelmed that morning and then received a call from the receptionist saying that Bishop [Peter] Rosazza was here to see me. I had the pleasure of meeting the Bishop that morning and I’ll never forget his words to me: ‘This is where you belong.’ And with those words, I started to get to work.”