Finding her voice: Gabriella de la Vega is a connector via the community media center
Gabriella de la Vega is a connector. She sees the possibilities in every situation and makes sure that the people who can collectively do something positive come together and come together to make the community better.
“I am here to build a bridge between my community and the resources to help them,” she said.
She is the model for what is listed as the Grand Rapids Community Media Center’s mission statement: “Building Community Through Media”.
Coming from Mexico to the United States in 1996 with three young children, Gabriella had poor command of the language and an intimidating path awaited her.
“When I got to Grand Rapids, I heard people say that we were alone, that no one wanted to help us,” she said. “But I didn’t find that to be true. There were a lot of organizations and people ready and eager to help. You just had to find them.
One such organization was UCOM, the United Church Outreach Ministry, whose dedicated team gave Gabriella and her young family a huge boost.
Experience has shown him that other members of the Latinx community need someone to increase awareness of these resources. His community needed a connector.
“The help was there,” she said. “but there was a language barrier preventing people from finding him.”
This quest to be a connector led Gabriella to radio, where she discovered the power and potential of the medium. She has worked at local Spanish speaking stations such as 1410 AM, 1530 AM and 810 AM. She perfected her radio presence by making informative, spiritual and conversation-oriented programs.
In 2007, Gabriella had the chance to meet Oscar Zuniga, the legendary Community Media Center (CMC) programmer for WYCE’s “El Mundo Musical” morning program. Zuniga was the first person to broadcast on WYCE in 1987 under the new CMC charter.
He saw Gabriella’s potential to connect members of the Latinx community and took her under his wing, demonstrating the CMC’s mission and giving her more and more airtime on WYCE.
She started taking care of the Saturday and Sunday programming slot from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., while Zuniga took care of Monday to Friday. Zuniga has since retired (although he is called in from time to time to replace him) and Deisy Madrigal now covers Monday through Wednesday, and new radio companion Silverio (Silver) Cerda airs Thursdays and Fridays. Gabriella helped train the two.
On Gabriella’s show, listeners are drawn to her musical selections, but between song sets, she makes sure the Latinx community is aware of the opportunities and resources available to her. She translates WYCE’s helpful Public Service Announcements (PSAs) into Spanish, and before COVID-19 limits studio guests, she would pick a theme – the census, heart disease, housing options, hospitality services. ‘immigration – and interview experts who could help people in her community.
His emerging “connector” presence on WYCE spilled over into many other community host roles, most notably as a key organizer of La Fiesta Mexicana in early September.
Gabriella’s efforts have caught the attention of the community, and she was recently named a finalist for the Athena Award – for outstanding leaders who promote the inclusion of women – by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.
Gabriella also serves those in need in her “day job” as a medical interpreter, helping communication between Latinx people with health concerns and healthcare professionals.
“Interpretation goes beyond translation,” she said. “Many medical terms are not easily translatable and people with serious medical conditions are emotional. It is a complicated task. “
Her employer is a national company and she speaks to people from coast to coast. On one occasion, a customer from Georgia heard his name and voice and asked. “Are you Gaby from Michigan Radio Station?” “
The person asking the question spends summers working in Western Michigan and, yes, listens to “El Mundo Musical” on WYCE.
Gabriella takes her connector work seriously and hopes to broaden the participation of the local Latinx community in CMC programs and resources.
“There is so much at CMC that my community can benefit from, like the Wealthy Theater, GRTV, The Rapidian, web development services, ”she said. “I can’t wait to make sure they know about these opportunities.
“Sometimes I hear a person say, ‘OK, Gaby is here now, everything is fine.’ You need someone you trust to point you to a place who can help you. This is my vocation at the CMC. I want to tell them, ‘You own this place. It’s for the community, and that includes you. “
Note: Michael Van Denend sits on the Board of Directors of the Community Media Center
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