Hispanic Heritage Month: A Story of Compassion for Those in Need

A close up portrait of Jeanette smiling, wearing a white collared business shirt.

An adult learner graduating next year with a degree in communication studies, Jeanette Alvarez talks about her upbringing and the ways in which she has learned from it, to give back to her community.

Jeanette Alvarez’s story is one of kindness, caring, and generosity, all stemming from her memories of the place she calls home: “My family is from the Dominican Republic. They’re from a small town. Although it is a small town, it’s rich in resources and love. Everyone there knows everyone. It’s like a neighborhood, where we’re all family. It’s where they always have the doors open. And it’s where everyone feels at home.”

Jeanette standing outside in front of a bridge, smiling with her arms raised.

Over the years, Jeanette’s determination, willingness, and love for her community has not gone unseen. She currently works as a confidential aide for Commissioners Melinda Kane and Al Dyer of the Camden County Board of Commissioners, in addition to serving on the Camden City Advisory School Board, the Backpack of Dreams nonprofit, and as the chair of the Saint Joseph Carpenter Society. With Camden County, she plays an important role in growing the connection between the constituents and the Board of Commissioners, but also between Camden’s schools and their students and families. With Backpack of Dreams, she helps coordinate, through a partnership with BookSmiles and its CEO, Larry Abrams, the donation of hundreds, or even thousands of books to schools in need in and around the Dominican Republic. Finally, as chair of the Saint Joseph Carpenter Society, she supports the organization in their goal to “promote homeownership, provide financial education, revitalize neighborhoods, and foster community engagement, resulting in improving housing conditions, financial stability and the creation of vibrant communities.”

Jeanette standing outside, looking off to the side in front of a sign reading "Camden In"

Jeanette was kind enough to share an impactful story that describes the moment she knew she was determined to give back to those in need: “Growing up, I was not a child that had everything. Although I thought that having everything was having material wealth, I learned very early on in life when I took a trip with my parents one summer to the Dominican Republic when I was six years old. My parents filled all of our luggages with toiletries and clothing to give to others. And my father always said, ‘Jeanette, remember this, that you’re rich’ but he never explained it. And as soon as we got off the plane, we went to a place where they had no running water, no electricity. Not much clothes, not on their backs, nor in the house. And my father looked at me, he was like, ‘Remember, I always tell you that you’re rich. This is why I say you’re rich. Because you have all the essential things that you need to survive. These people don’t have that.’ So that’s where my passion comes from serving and giving back.” 

Jeanette also talks about her greatest accomplishment in her eyes: “I’m a single mom of three beautiful children. I’m actually a proud grandmother of a three year old. She’s so bright. And my proudest moment has been to see my kids flourish into these genuine individuals that give back as well. They have amazing souls and they think about others before themselves. And I think that that’s my proudest moment is seeing my kids out there, like I have one who just graduated college with a 4.0 GPA last year, and my other daughter graduating next year, so my proudest moment is seeing my kids excel in life and flourish and just be great individuals because that’s what we need.”

Jeanette standing proudly outside a building with a "Rowan 100" banner draped overhead.

When asked what motivates and empowers her daily, Jeanette responded, “Witnessing other people around me succeed motivates me and empowers me, especially women that look like me. Minorities, Latinas, women of color, just because we’re not seen in positions of leadership, right? So, I often say that I see through I live through the eyes of others, which I do. When I see other people doing well, it just kind of inspires me to do well myself.”

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Jeanette decided to leave anyone looking for her message or advice to the world with a quote from famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Jeanette wholeheartedly agrees with this idea, and expands upon it further: “I’ve always said this, we all have a gift. It could even be the gift of some people who don’t even have to speak, they just know how to heal others through their presence. I believe that our job as a human being is to recognize our gift or gifts, because there are people that have multiple gifts and they don’t even recognize it. And if we put that to use, this world will be a different place. But most importantly, we have to share our light with others and sometimes I think we forget to do that.” 

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Story and interview by Connor Bicknell, senior communication studies major